Transgender women will not be allowed to compete against adult female rugby players in Ireland, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) has said. In a statement issued on Wednesday, the IRFU says it will amend its gender participation policy for rugby from the forthcoming season “in order to ensure fair competition and the safety of competitors”.
The amendment is, according to the IRFU, based on medical and scientific evidence and is in line with World Rugby guidance. The new policy, which also corresponds with that of the RFU (English Rugby Football Union) and other governing bodies, will mean that contact rugby for players in the female category is limited to those whose sex was recorded female at birth.
While recognising the sensitivities and challenges for sport in the area of transgender participation and the wider LGBT+ community, recent peer reviewed research provides evidence that there are physical differences between those people whose sex was assigned as male and those as female at birth. Advantages in strength, stamina and physique brought about by male puberty are significant and retained even after testosterone suppression.
In Ireland there are just two registered players affected by the change and the IRFU has discussed the matter directly with them including options to remain active in the game, such as non-contact playing formats (tag/touch rugby), refereeing, coaching, and volunteering, underlining that the IRFU values their on-going involvement in the game.
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. The IRFU has spoken to players they are permitted to contact directly and will work with them to support on-going participation in the sport.
An equality network group, Transgender Equality Network Ireland, has previously said that they would be “very disappointed” if the IRFU decided to ban on transgender women competing in rugby games.
The IRFU, RFU and World Rugby see the issue around the participation of athletes who have transitioned from male to female as a health and safety issue for women whose sex was recorded at birth as female.
“The IRFU is committed to inclusivity and has worked with the players and other groups in the LGBT+ community to explain that this change is based solely on new research related to safety,” said Anne Marie Hughes, Spirit of Rugby Manager, who has worked on policy development in the area since 2014
“This is a particularly sensitive area, and it is important that respect is shown to all members of our rugby family and the wider community.”
The amended IRFU Gender Participation Policy explains that the union has been “obliged to take a precautionary approach with respect to playing and training in contact rugby, an approach than needs to be applied in order to ensure fair competition and the safety of competitors.”