Irish rugby’s blanket ban on transgender women is as unnecessary as it is wrong

The IRFU’s decision to place a blanket ban on transgender women participating in women’s contact rugby is as unnecessary as it is wrong.

t said that the move was “in order to ensure fair competition and the safety of competitors”.

A purge is currently taking place of trans women across international sporting bodies, U-turning on previous policies that were more inclusive. Recently the International Swimming Federation (FINA) banned transgender women from international women’s competitions. World Athletics have hinted that they may follow suit.

The changes in Irish rugby impact on just two transgender women but the story coupled with developments elsewhere has opened the door to a plethora of transphobic abuse in recent weeks. It is a solution in search of a problem where there is none.

It follows a similar ban being put in place in England where the Rugby Football Union (RFU) clearly are having difficulty coping with the six transgender women who are playing the sport across the water.

We don’t know exactly the percentage of the population that is transgender, but it is thought to be somewhere below 1%. Then obviously a smaller percentage would be female and a smaller number again participating in sports.

This issue is not about a huge movement of people into women’s sports as the statistics show. The real impact of these policy changes is to pick on a very minute amount of people from a minority group and to embolden those in society who need little excuse to engage in transphobic bigotry anyway.

Legal rights group Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) has expressed serious concerns at the development and suggested that it may be unlawful under Irish equality legislation.

Moninne Griffith, CEO of Belong To who support LGBTI+ young people, said: “It is openly sending a message to trans people, their families and allies that they are not welcome in the rugby community.”

Ciara Cooney who plays for Ireland and Wasps tweeted: “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.”

The Belfast Azlans rugby team were also highly critical of the IRFU and said the decision, “does not uphold and reflect the values of the game”.

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

The IRFU states that they needed to address a ‘potential safety risk’ and has therefore ruled out a case-by-case assessment for trans women. However, trans men can partake in men’s rugby so long as an individual risk assessment is carried out first.

So the policy is inconsistent. The two trans women impacted by the blanket approach are not being banned because of their individual physique, strength or power. Assessment obviously does not form part of the new policy. The new rules exclude them simply because they are trans women.

At a time when the men’s rugby team are ranked the best in the world and the women’s team are the sixth best internationally it is shameful that Irish rugby has adopted this crude and unnecessary policy whilst we are caught up in a wave of anti-trans sentiment.

Ireland can and should do better than get caught up in the culture wars more familiar in the US and Britain.

Last week Australian rugby sevens star Ellia Green became the first Olympian to come out as a trans man. He has warned that policies such as that introduced by Irish rugby will make the high rate of suicide and mental health challenges among trans and gender diverse young people even worse.

Rugby Australia has said that their stance on including transgender women in community competitions will not change in light of what has happened elsewhere.

They have in place a nine-step process that ensures player safety without compromising diversity and inclusivity.

Their Chief Executive Andy Marinos said: “We are aligned with World Rugby on the professional side of the game, but we decided to adopt our own community guidelines when it came to permitting transgender participants to play the game.”

New Zealand Rugby have stated they want to introduce a policy that is ‘as inclusive as possible’.

The German Football Association (DFB) has also announced new regulations that will allow transgender players the right to choose either a men’s or women’s team.

Other sporting organisations are reviewing their policies concerning the involvement of trans women. They should stop and think carefully before getting caught up in the hysteria that is taking place elsewhere. Transphobia has always been a problem, but I never recall it being as prominent. Of course, it is being amplified by bigots and idiots on social media and let us not forget that this will multiply the mental health impact on trans members of our community especially young people.

Sporting organisations in some countries have shown leadership and continued to include transgender women in their sports with common sense policies in place. They have afforded them rights and dignity. Let us hope our other sporting codes do not follow the example of the IRFU. They made the wrong call.

Belfast Telegraph