Athlete Ally Responds to Global Rugby Ban on Trans Women

June 21, 2022 — Athlete Ally responded today to news that the global governing body for rugby, International Rugby League (IRL), has banned transgender women from playing in women’s international matches until further notice and plans to develop a more comprehensive policy in the coming months. This directly follows Sunday’s announcement that FINA, the world swimming governing body, has severely restricted the participation of transgender athletes and athletes with intersex variations, and a similar announcement from the International Cycling Union (UCI) on June 16. 

“Athlete Ally is devastated that the IRL has decided to ban transgender women in international rugby, despite transgender women being included at the highest level of sport for decades. They have been included at this level because medical, sports and human rights experts determined that what makes somebody a successful athlete is multifaceted and complex, and that being transgender does not inherently make someone a bigger, stronger, or a better athlete. This positioning is reinforced by the 2021 IOC framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations, which underscores inclusion and the fact that transgender athletes have no inherent advantage in sport. 

We urge IRL to rise above political pressure, and employ a transparent and rigorous process to develop a policy that is truly inclusive. This is a clear distraction from what we know to be the real, documented challenges to women’s sports: unequal pay, sexual abuse and harassment, and a lack of women in leadership, to name only a few. Transgender women playing rugby are not a threat; sexism and lack of dedicated support for women athletes is.”

We have women rugby players at the highest level of sport who do not and never have seen transgender women as a threat, and instead welcome them with open arms as their teammates. 

“IRL’s ban on transgender women is a solution in search of a problem, and it is not coming from women who are playing rugby at the highest levels,” said USA Rugby athlete and Athlete Ally Ambassador Naima Reddick. “Cis women, just like trans women, come in all shapes and sizes. Policies like IRL’s ban on transgender women suggest that we don’t believe in the power and strength of women athletes and we aren’t acknowledging the diversity of bodies that already exist amongst women and especially women who play Rugby. I am so tired of IRL and World Rugby using trans women to distract from the real challenges I face as a woman in rugby: unequal pay, lack of visibility of our sport, and rampant sexism.