The decision to exclude transgender women and girls from playing contact rugby in the female category is “damaging” and sets a “dangerous precedent” for other sports, advocacy groups have said.
The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) on Wednesday announced a change to its participation policy for the upcoming season, under which transgender women will not be allowed to compete against adult female players. The policy means that contact rugby for players in the female category will be limited to those whose sex was recorded female at birth.
In the male category, players whose sex is recorded at birth as female may continue to play if they provide written consent and a risk assessment is carried out.
There are two registered players affected by the change to rules for transgender women, according to the IRFU. The policy corresponds to that of the Rugby Football Union in England and other governing bodies.
Trans Equality Together, a coalition of 20 organisations campaigning for the rights of transgender people in Ireland, condemned the change and has called on the IRFU to pause the “damaging decision”.
Moninne Griffith, chief executive of Belong To, a charity supporting young members of the LGBT+ community, said the exclusion of transgender women affected a very small number of players “but it will have deep-reaching negative consequences across society”.
“It is openly sending a message to trans people, their families and allies that they are not welcome in the rugby community. It is also setting a dangerous precedent for other Irish sporting organisations to follow their lead in banning trans players. We note the IRFU’s values include respect, integrity and inclusivity – this decision flies in the face of these values,” Ms Griffith said.
Emerald Warriors rugby club, the country’s first LGBT+ inclusive rugby team, said the policy change was “hugely disappointing and regressive”.
“There is a risk that the fallout and repercussions of this policy will accelerate into other sports and transphobia overall,” the team said. “We request the IRFU pause this process, maintain the previous case-by-case policy that protects our game and ensures a route for participation.”
Tina Kolos Orban, chief executive of the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland (Teni), said Ireland was not the UK and any decision regarding trans players in Ireland “should be based on Ireland-specific research which we are urging the IRFU to undertake”.
“The trans community and the wider rugby community should be central to any decision being made regarding who can and cannot play, and we are calling on the IRFU to begin this consultation process. This blanket ban is a blunt tool that has not sought to understand the views of those affected by this move.”
Paula Fagan, chief executive of LGBT Ireland, said the country had a “strong track record” for leading on LGBTQ+ rights with the marriage equality referendum and the enacting of the Gender Recognition Act in 2015.
“Ireland should not follow the UK’s lead in trying to reduce the number of spaces that trans women can exist in safely. Ireland can and should do better,” Ms Fagan said. “We are urging the IRFU to reconsider their decision. The IRFU has an opportunity to be leaders in the space of diversity, inclusion and equality, and we would welcome an opportunity to discuss this further with the IRFU.”