Trans women who weigh more than 90kg (14st 2lb) – or are more than 170cm (5ft 7in) tall – could face an assessment by a coach to see whether they pose a safety risk to other players before being allowed to play women’s rugby in England, the Guardian can reveal.
The draft Rugby Football Union policy, which will be put on the RFU website on Wednesday to gain public feedback, also suggests trans women should provide details of their sporting background before being cleared to play. However, the RFU has stopped short of following World Rugby, which has banned trans women from the international game after warning there was “at least a 20-30% greater risk” of injury when a female player is tackled by someone who has gone through male puberty.
While acknowledging that as a contact sport player welfare is paramount, the RFU also says in its draft proposals that it aims “to strike a balance between fairness, inclusion and safe participation”. In a video that will accompany the draft document, the RFU states: “We understand there are several misconceptions about transgender participants in rugby as well as in wider society. The policy aims to provide a fair opportunity for all those who wish to take part.
“It’s important to consider the individuals involved and the sense of community and acceptance that our transgender players tell us rugby provides for them.”
Last year World Rugby’s working group reported that players who are assigned male at birth and whose puberty and development is influenced by androgens/testosterone “are stronger by 25%-50%, are 30% more powerful, 40% heavier, and about 15% faster than players who are assigned female at birth”. It added that those advantages were not significantly reduced when a trans woman takes testosterone-suppressing medication, as was previously thought, and that a ban on trans women from women’s rugby was justified on safety grounds.
As things stand, the RFU follows the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines, which allow trans women to compete in women’s sport if they take hormone suppressants to lower their testosterone to below 5nmol/L for at least 12 months. However, in its draft document the RFU acknowledges for the first time that recent research has forced a rethink – after scientists “identified that differences in height, weight and strength provide transgender women with a potential advantage over cisgender women”.
As a result, the RFU proposes that transgender women applicants should provide their weight and height as “an initial indication of any physical potential advantage”. It then suggests that a coach should conduct an assessment of the player in an appropriate training environment.
This would review “a) if the player has or may have a material performance advantage over other participants; and/or b) there is or may be a safety risk to other participants which is above the level presented by cis women players at the level of the competition/rugby in which the player wishes to participate”.
The RFU draft policy was questioned by the women’s advocacy group Fair Play For Women. “The RFU now appears to accept that there are performance and safety concerns,” its spokesperson Nicola Williams said. “But it has come to a very different conclusion to World Rugby – one that risks trading the safety of one group for the inclusion of another.”
The LGBTQ organisation Stonewall also said it disagreed with the draft policy as it excluded some people from playing sport. Maria Munir, associate director of community engagement, said: “No one should be excluded because of who they are and it’s vital that everyone – including trans and non-binary people – is given the opportunity to play the sports that they love.”
Over the past three years the RFU has received 39 applications from trans men, seven from trans women and four players identifying as men but wishing to continue playing in women’s rugby. All have had to be cleared and approved by an independent panel.
The draft policy also requires trans men to sign a waiver saying they understand the risks involved if they want to play men’s rugby.