Another sport imposes transgender ban

International Rugby League has followed swimming counterpart FINA’s lead

The International Rugby League (IRL) is the latest sporting federation to ban transgender women from taking part in elite female sport after an announcement made on Monday.

Swimming body FINA held a vote on Sunday to prevent trans women that had gone through any part of male puberty from participating in women’s events as it also plans to make an ‘open’ category in the future. 

At the turn of this week, the IRL has followed suit by banning athletes who have transitioned from male to female from international matches as it works out a new policy.

In a statement, the IRL said that further consultation and research is needed before it can finalize its stance.

In the meantime, trans athletes will not be able to participate in the Women’s Rugby League World Cup this year, which it will use to help develop a “comprehensive inclusion policy”.

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“Until further research is completed to enable the IRL to implement a formal transgender inclusion policy, male-to-female [trans women] players are unable to play in sanctioned women’s international rugby league matches,” it confirmed.

The IRL intends to assess the opinions of eight teams set to play at the World Cup in England in November to inform an inclusion policy in the future. 

The IRL’s trans inclusion policy has not been reviewed since January and February last year, yet the new approach has been inspired by “several relevant developments in world sport”, which also includes the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Framework on Fairness, Non-Discrimination and Inclusion on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations published in late 2021.

“The IOC concluded that it is the remit of each sport and its governing body to determine how an athlete may be at a disproportionate advantage compared with their peers – taking into consideration the differing nature of each sport,” the IRL noted.

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“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 before finalizing its policy,” it also said.

The IRL reaffirmed that it believes rugby league is a game for all which anyone and everyone can play, but it feels it has a responsibility to balance the “individuals’ right to participate”, which has been a “longstanding principle of rugby league and at its heart from the day it was established”, against “perceived risk to other participants” while all parties are given a “fair hearing”.

At present, it is unknown how the IRL’s new stance will affect top domestic leagues such as the NRLW in Australia, which said it is “undertaking ongoing engagement with experts and stakeholders regarding transgender participation,” as confirmed by a spokesperson on Tuesday. 

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