Transgender women will still be allowed to play women’s rugby at all non-international levels of the game in England for the foreseeable future, the Guardian can reveal, after the Rugby Football Union decided that more evidence was needed before implementing any ban.
The RFU’s position is sharply at odds with World Rugby, which last week ruled that trans women could no longer play international women’s rugby after a major review of the latest science concluded that the risk of “significant injury” was “too great”.
World Rugby’s new transgender guidelines do, however, allow national unions to exercise “flexibility” in determining their transgender rules. The RFU believes that more work is needed to assess the science, as well as investigating whether there are safe ways to allow trans women to keep playing the sport they love, rather than ban them from the domestic game. This position, it is understood, is supported by a number of other countries, including the US and Canada.
The RFU told the Guardian that while it welcomed World Rugby’s work on this “complex subject which invokes many strong opinions” the organisation did not support all the global governing body’s conclusions.
“The RFU does not currently plan to adopt World Rugby transgender guidelines as it believes further scientific evidence is required alongside detailed consideration of less restrictive measures in relation to the eligibility of transgender players,” it added.
“We will assess the current evidence alongside safety concerns that have been raised. The RFU will also undertake further consultation with players in the women’s game to understand their views. The RFU is committed to LGBTQ+ inclusion as well as safety and fairness across all levels of the game.”
The RFU’s decision means that trans women can continue playing women’s club rugby in England for now, provided their concentration of testosterone in serum has been less than 5 nmol/L continuously for at least 12 months. However, they are no longer eligible for selection for the Olympics or the Six Nations, competitions governed by World Rugby rules.
Last week World Rugby became the first international sports body to ban trans women from the women’s game after an eight-month review. It concluded that it was not possible to balance inclusivity with safety and fairness given that biological males, whose puberty and development is influenced by androgens/testosterone, are “stronger by 25% to 50%, are 30% more powerful, 40% heavier, and about 15% faster than biological females.”
Reacting to the RFU decision World Rugby said: “The updated guidance … recognises that the available evidence in relation to testosterone suppression does not currently support trans women playing full contact international rugby on safety grounds.
“While the guideline applies to all World Rugby tournaments at the international level, the respective national unions with jurisdiction at domestic level will be able to exercise flexibility in their application based on national requirements.”
The RFU’s decision was greeted with disappointment by the women’s rights group Fair Play for Women. “Everyone knows that in a rough sport like rugby it is dangerous for males to play against females,” said the campaigning group’s Nicola Williams. “And if it’s not safe, it can never be fair either. The science is clear. Growing up male will give transgender athletes a lifelong edge that simply cannot be fully reversed by a period of testosterone suppression.
“Sport must be inclusive of everyone, but the sports categories can’t be. The category for the female sex was invented so women and girls could be included in sport. World Rugby has put the safety of its professional female players first. If the RFU don’t do the same then thousands of amateur players will be left asking why they don’t deserve the same protections.”