Transgender athletes barred from international rugby league

Two days after world swimming's governing body effectively banned transgenders from competing in women's events, the International Rugby League on Tuesday said it was continuing to review and update rules about transgender participation in women's international tournaments.

National Stadium, Tokyo

A general view of a rugby stadium in Tokyo, Japan.   -  Getty Images

Transgender athletes will be barred from women's international rugby league matches while the sport's governing body formulates its inclusion policy.

Two days after world swimming's governing body effectively banned transgenders from competing in women's events, the International Rugby League on Tuesday said it was continuing to review and update rules about transgender participation in women's international tournaments.

“Until further research is completed to enable the IRL to implement a formal transgender inclusion policy, male-to-female (transwomen) players are unable to play in sanctioned women's international rugby league matches,” the IRL said in a statement.

It planned to use the eight-team Women's World Cup, being staged in England from November 1-19 in conjunction with the men's Rugby League World Cup, to help develop a comprehensive policy.

The IRL said it last reviewed transgender participation in international rugby league in early 2021 but now had to consider more recent developments in world sport, including the International Olympic Committee's publication of guidelines for fairness, non-discrimination and inclusion.

“In the interests of avoiding unnecessary welfare, legal and reputational risk to International Rugby League competitions, and those competing therein, the IRL believes there is a requirement and responsibility to further consult and complete additional research,” the statement said.

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The IRL said it would seek to work with the eight teams competing in the women's World Cup — Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, England, France, Canada and Brazil — to obtain data and and develop a set of criteria which fairly balance the individual's right to play with the safety of all participants.

The England-based International Rugby League governs the 13-a-side game established in 1908 and played mainly in northern England, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.

Rugby union, the original, primarily 15-a-side game governed by the Dublin, Ireland-based World Rugby, does not allow transgender women to play in the women's competition.

International rugby union guidelines state the reason being: “Because of the size, force- and power-producing advantages conferred by testosterone during puberty and adolescence, and the resultant player welfare risks this creates.” World Rugby committed to a formal review of the policy every three years.

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FINA, the international swimming federation, adopted a new “gender inclusion policy” on Sunday that only permits swimmers who transitioned before age 12 to compete in women's events.

FINA also proposed an “open competition category" in international swimming and said it was setting up a working group to spend the next six months investigating the most effective way of establishing it.

Other sports have also been examining their policies around transgender athletes.

The International Cycling Union last week updated its eligibility rules for transgender athletes with stricter limits that will force riders to wait longer before they can compete by increasing the transition period on low testosterone levels to two years rather than one.

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