Prominent Irish rugby figures respond to IRFU Trans policy change

Former Irish captain Fiona Coghlan, current player Ciara Cooney, and several rugby clubs across Ireland weighed in on the matter.

Irish women's rugby player in training.
Image: Instagram: @IrishRugby

On Wednesday, August 10, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) issued a statement confirming that Trans women will be banned from competing in the female category of contact ruby in Ireland. In the wake of the announcement, prominent Irish rugby figures have been responding, many of whom have expressed support for the marginalised community.

“I do think it needs to continue to be looked at,” commented former Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan. “I don’t think it can just be shut down now and those players aren’t allowed to play and feel they can’t be involved in rugby in Ireland.

“When new research comes out and they are able to play, I think it should be revoked and changed,” she stated.

Current Irish rugby star and Wasps player Ciara Cooney made her thoughts clear on Twitter, saying: “Wholeheartedly stand with trans players youth families friends&allies. You deserve better, you deserve to be included in a sport that values inclusivity.

“Hope @IrishRugby reconsider excluding a minority group & maintain case basis so the sport we love truly is for all,” she concluded.

LGBTQ+ inclusive clubs across the nation have also spoken out with the Dublin-based Emerald Warriors reaffirming that they “stand for inclusion, rugby for all, and in solidarity with the transgender community across Ireland and the world.”

The Belfast Azlans similarly condemned the IRFU decision,  saying it “does not uphold and reflect the values of the game”.

“Rugby has always been a diverse and inclusive sport for all, upholding the values of teamwork, discipline, sportsmanship and foremost, respect,” the club commented.

“As an inclusive team we stand with all transgender men and women affeced by this decision. We still strive to fight this policy to make rugby everyone’s game.”

The Cork Hellhounds issued a statement of their own, saying that the club was “dismayed and disappointed” at the announcement.

“The safety and welfare of all players must always take priority on the pitch, but as a club, we fundamentally disagree to these changes which unfairly depict trans players as a threat to safety within rugby,” they continued.

The Hellhounds also pleaded for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies to advocate for Trans inclusion in a bid to influence the policy.

There are two known registered players in Ireland who are impacted by the policy change, but with the English RFU and World Rugby taking the same stance, sportspeople are being affected all across the globe.

Alix Fitzgerald is a Dublin-raised London-based Trans woman who, up until recently, had been playing rugby with East London Vixens RFC. When the English RFU announced its gender policy change on August 2, her full-contact playing career was cut short.

“That was really bruising,” she said of the RFU’s decision, but what “cut even harder” for her was when a similar policy change was adopted in Ireland.

“I left Ireland quite a long time ago, before it became the country it is now,” Alix told RTÉ Radio 1.

“When Ireland changed – and it has changed hugely in my lifetime – I was finally able to connect with the place I am from and say: ‘I am Irish, and I belong here.’

“When the IRFU did that, it damaged my sense of belonging. I feel wounded,” she said.

Alix explained that through joining the Vixens in 2018, she found a sport and people that allowed her to be herself. She added that she never felt like a threat to anyone. 

“Rugby is supposedly a game for all shapes and sizes. There are people playing rugby now who are 5 foot 11 and 50 kilos, playing against people who are 6 foot 1 and a hundred and something kilos.

“I am neither of those things so I never felt I was a danger to anybody … I’ve been pushed backwards as often as I’ve put anyone else backwards.”

Alix is reportedly one of seven players in England believed to be affected by the RFU’s recent decision, and she concluded, “I can’t play the game I love. It is that simple.”

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