IRFU faces backlash following decision to ban Trans women from female contact rugby

“It is openly sending a message to trans people, their families and allies that they are not welcome in the rugby community."

IRFU women's team in action.
Image: Instagram: @IrishRugby

On Wednesday, August 10, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) announced a change to its Gender Participation Policy, confirming that Trans women will no longer be allowed to compete in contact rugby within the female category. 

“The new policy, which is in line with that of World Rugby, the RFU and other governing bodies, will mean that contact rugby for players in the female category is limited to those whose sex was recorded as female at birth,” the organisation stated.

The news has caused huge disappointment for members of the queer community and their allies, with many speaking out publicly in reaction to the announcement.

LGBTQ+ inclusive rugby club, the Emerald Warriors, were among the first groups to issue a response. Having previously worked with the IRFU on a number of occasions to promote inclusivity and rugby for all, the Dublin-based team called the policy change “hugely disappointing and regressive”.

“We the Emerald Warriors RFC stand for inclusion, rugby for all, and in solidarity with the transgender community across Ireland and the world,” the statement reads.

“We request the IRFU pause this process, maintain the previous case by case policy that protects our game and ensures a route for participation. 

“There is a risk that the fallout and repercussions of this policy will accelerate into other sports and transphobia overall,” they added.

Trans Equality Together also condemned the decision, with the coalition’s Co-Director and CEO of BeLonG To Moninne Griffith saying: “This reactionary ban directly affects a very small number of trans players in Ireland, 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,” she continued.

“We note the IRFU’s values include respect, integrity, and inclusivity – this decision flies in the face of these values.”

Fellow Trans Equality Together Co-Director and CEO of TENI, Tina Kolos Orban also commented, saying: “The IRFU’s decision follows England RFU’s same ban in recent weeks, a decision which was based on problematic UK-specific research with a number of unaddressed limitations. Ireland is 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.”

Coalition Co-Director and CEO of LGBT Ireland Paula Fagan also weighed in, urging Ireland not to follow the UK’s example in terms of its treatment of the Trans community.

Ireland has a strong track record for leading on LGBTQ+ rights,” she said. “There is no place in Ireland for the divisive and polarising rhetoric regarding trans rights we have seen taking place in the UK. Ireland can and should do better.”

Others made their thoughts on the matter clear through social media, with Irish rugby player Ciara Cooney tweeting: “wholeheartedly stand with trans players youth families friends&allies. You deserve better, you deserve to be included in a sport that values inclusivity.”

She also urged the IRFU to reconsider its decision, and like many others, called for eligibility to be determined on a case-by-case basis as is done currently. 

Podcaster Andrea Horan also took to Twitter to express her frustration, writing: “Scarlet for the IRFU dancing all over the internet with pride flags a few weeks ago. And now banning trans women – 2 trans women – from the sport.

“We’ll be needing the dictionary to look up the meaning of inclusive,” she concluded.

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