IRFU bans Transgender women from competing in female contact rugby

LGBTQ+ inclusive club the Emerald Warriors has spoken out against the decision, saying it is “hugely disappointing and regressive”.

Women playing Irish rugby. The IRFU banned Transgender athletes from playing in the female category.
Image: Via Instagram - @irishrugby

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) has officially banned Transgender women from competing in the female category of contact rugby in the country. The news comes less than 48 hours after the governing body confirmed that its Gender Participation Policy was under review, and less than two weeks after the English RFU voted in favour of a similar ban.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, August 10, the IRFU confirmed it “will amend its gender participation policy for rugby from the forthcoming season, based on medical and scientific evidence and in line with World Rugby guidance.” World Rugby, the sport’s global governing body, made the decision to prohibit Trans women from participating in elite and international women’s rugby in 2020, but it has still been allowed at domestic level.

“The IRFU is keenly aware that this is a sensitive and challenging area for those involved and the wider LGBT+ community and will continue to work with those impacted, providing support to ensure their ongoing involvement with the game,” the statement continues.

“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.”

According to the IRFU, there are two registered Transgender female players in Ireland affected by this policy change. The organisation says it has been in contact with these individuals and has explored with them their options on how to remain active within the sport including playing non-contact formats, refereeing, coaching, and volunteering.

“We continue to stand with the LGBT+ community, and while we accept that today some may feel disappointed in this decision, we want to again underline to them – there is a place for everyone in rugby, and we can all work together,” said Spirit of Rugby Manager Anne Marie Hughes.

The IRFU added that it is committed to engaging with World Rugby and other organisations “to further explore options to allow wider participation in contact rugby.” It also explained that the policy will continue to be reviewed as new evidence emerges.

Up until now, Trans women in Ireland were allowed to participate in female competitions, provided that they declare their identity as female, and for sporting purposes, they could not change this for a minimum of four years. They also had to demonstrate that their testosterone level in serum had been below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition, and it had to remain below that level while playing.

Trans men will continue to be permitted to compete in the male category subject to providing written consent and having a risk assessment carried out.

LGBTQ+-inclusive rugby club the Emerald Warriors has spoken out against the decision from the IRFU to ban Transgender women from contact versions of the sport, calling it “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 TENI, Tina Kolos Orban, 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.”

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