Rugby Seeks Ban of Trans Women Competing Against Females

In a debate that should not be a debate, the British Rugby Football Union (RFU) on Friday recommended a ban on transgender women playing in women’s matches. The U.S. and many others still allow a blatantly unbalanced playing field, though they may follow the lead of the British.

The result of a two-year review was a statement endorsing a policy change for the sport. Only players “whose sex recorded at birth was female” would be allowed to compete in the female category.

The league determined the obvious — that puberty grants men “advantages in strength, stamina, and physique.” Allowing those who experienced male puberty to compete with natural women becomes an issue “of safety and fairness.”

Just last year, the RFU laid out plans to limit the height and weight of trans athletes in the women’s game. That clearly was not enough to ensure the safety of females in a game that redefines “contact sport.”

It reports the new recommendations came about only after consulting other leagues’ governing bodies, looking at emerging science, and getting over 11,000 responses in a survey across the sport.

This has been a contentious issue in several leagues. USA Rugby subscribes to Olympic guidelines, which state that trans women have to keep their testosterone levels below the levels of men’s normal reading. That, however, can still be three times the normal level for natural females.

Not so for Rugby Canada, which allows restriction-free access for biological males who identify as women. Australia requires a medical professional to certify an athlete’s safety, though it’s unclear whether it’s the trans athlete or the natural females competing with them whose safety is checked.

The RFU currently has guidelines that state trans women must have testosterone levels of half of the normal for males, though they may still be higher than the biological female standard. The new standards will be voted on shortly and would take effect during the next playing season.

FINA, the international governing body of swimming competition, recently took steps towards a return to normalcy by banning nearly all trans swimmers from competing with biological females. How much more important is that standard in a sport as physical as rugby?