World Rugby and Rugby Canada Transgender Policies

*World Rugby and Rugby Canada Clash on Transgender Policy: The View from the Editor’s Desk*

There has been a lot written lately about transgender athletes in sports and particularly in rugby as World Rugby recently presented guidelines that recommended transwomen were not to play women’s contact rugby at the international level based on safety concerns. They also stated that national unions could apply their own guidelines on contact rugby below the international level. Rugby Canada did this and have a policy that allows transwomen to participate in women’s contact rugby at all levels (below international level).

The statements from the two governing bodies, World Rugby and Rugby Canada are below.

World Rugby Statement with link to guidelines.

“Given the best available evidence for the effects of testosterone reduction on these physical attributes for transgender women, it was concluded that safety and fairness cannot presently be assured for women competing against transwomen in contact rugby.

As a result, the new guidelines do not recommend that transwomen play women’s contact rugby on safety grounds at the international level of the game where size, strength, power and speed are crucial for both risk and performance, but do not preclude national unions from flexibility in their application of the guidelines at the domestic/community level of the game. Transmen are permitted to participate in men’s contact rugby.”

Rugby Canada Statement with link to policy

“Our trans inclusion policy was written and developed by Sport, Law & Strategy Group, and is aligned with the guidance document ‘Creating Inclusive Environments for Trans Participants in Canadian Sport.’ Participation in community rugby in Canada is encouraged based on the gender in which a participant identifies and is not to be subjected to requirements for disclosure of personal information beyond those required of cisgender athletes.”

It has become a very emotive issue with a lot of rhetoric from both sides of the discussion. Here are some fairly balanced articles on the topic.

What Does World Rugby’s Ban Really Mean for Trans Athletes

Gender Games: The Complex issue of Sport Categories and Why They Matter

World Rugby Bans Trans Women from Elite Womens Game Due to Injury Risk

My views, as Editor of BCRN, have been mostly guided by what I’ve observed at the local level combined with the many articles I’ve read on the topic. I have two points of reference locally, one a player who transitioned in 2017 and the other a father whose child transitioned before puberty.

The player wrote a blog about her experience which has been helpful in understanding her perspective, the father I’ve known for several years as a member of the BC Rugby community, he’s a former player and current coach.

In April 2018 I was President of the North Vancouver Island Rugby Union. I was made aware verbally of some injuries accrued by a North Island women’s team visiting a team from the Interior. The injury count reported was two possible concussions, a separated shoulder and a broken bone. The team from the Interior was playing in Division One and had a transwoman player which was mentioned as a causal factor in the injuries. I contacted the club coach by email to verify and asked if any further action was required, she noted that she had been in contact with the BCRU and that the injuries were documented.

[Editor’s note: an interesting follow up would be to see if the BCRU verified these injuries and how they were recorded for statistical purposes.]

That’s as far as I became involved but I became interested in following the rugby career of the trans player in question, my first thought was she was playing in a division too low for her strength and abilities and was a potential safety hazard to opposition players. That problem rectified itself when she moved to Vancouver and moved up to the women’s Premier league for the 2018-19 season. Her team won both the BC Premier championship and the inaugural national women’s championship held in Toronto that season, she was one of the star players. She was definitely playing at national athlete level in my evaluation. In one game I watched her matched up against the national team incumbent at her position, I thought she got the better of the battle.

My opinion, largely influenced by this one case, is that safety is an issue but mostly at the lower levels. As the player progressed up to higher levels, the playing gap decreased, and I suspect the safety concerns lessened. I also think a male player making the transition post puberty is likely going to increase their playing level in women’s rugby, with the potential to make the jump from Div 1 to national level.

As for the issue of fairness, which seems to be the main argument among opposing factions and the main source of the vitriol from both sides, I’ll leave that debate up to the apparent myriad of experts on fairness. The definition of fairness, “the quality of treating people equally or in a way that is right or reasonable”, indicates it’s a qualitative not quantitative metric and is prone to subjective interpretations.

Is World Rugby being judicious in their current position? I think so, they haven’t closed the door, as they stated “we recognise that the science continues to evolve, and we are committed to regularly reviewing these guidelines, always seeking to be inclusive”. Both sides want more data, certainly on safety, and the values of fairness, what is right and reasonable, will evolve no doubt as public debate continues and generational norms are defined.

Feel free to leave comments in the section below, base your comments on reason, hate speech won’t be tolerated.

The excerpts below are from the public blog the player wrote between November 2017 and June 2019.

BLOG POST – NOVEMBER 26, 2017

“Today was a big day for me. Today marks my first experience in woman’s sports. It was both different and sort of just normal.

It was different in the sense that as a woman, I fit into a different class of athlete on a physical scale. I’m more on the bigger/taller side and slower.

In men’s sports I was more on the smaller/average height side but fast as hell.

This changed the whole dynamic of how I play rugby. Before I would lean on my strength and speed, trying to avoid contact and run away from people.

Now I get more involved in stopping the big runners, help win balls in scrums and focus more on setting up the quicker players to score.

It’s interesting to me because it’s still really challenging. I feel like although my strengths and weaknesses have changed, I am pretty much the same level of player. What I mean is I contribute and impact the game pretty much the same as I did before.”

BLOG POST – MAY 21, 2018

“I feel like going out of my way to tell people at this point is hypocritical to how I want to be treated. The theory is this: people seem to not give a shit and or accept me. Telling people sends a message that I’m singling myself out and see myself as something different. So if makes sense to me that if I want to be accepted I need to also accept myself.

It’s funny how sometimes other people can be more accepting of me then I sometimes am of myself. It pushes me forward in my evolution of my identity.

This is why my passion for rugby has accelerated. Rugby is teaching me to accept myself for who I am.”

BLOG POST – JULY 21, 2018

“Someone mentioned that there were Team Canada scouts analyzing me. That makes me wonder what they think. I want so badly to be invited to practice with them. Thats my goal for this tournament.”

BLOG POST – JUNE 1, 2019

“I’ve come to understand that I’ve put a huge challenge in front of myself. Getting to the international stage is not as easy as I first thought. I still don’t know if I will get there. I learned that it isn’t just hard work that will get me there. I’m relying on someone else selecting me to be a part of it. So far I haven’t been approached. I haven’t had even a sniff of notion that I’m on the radar of the national team.

My team finished the season winning the Premier Provincial Championships. We beat out a top contender who was undefeated in the regular season. It was an amazing victory and accomplishment. I finished my first prems season with over 200 points and 36 tries. I’m proud of my team and my personal accomplishments in my first year here in Vancouver.

Hopefully by the end of this summer I’ll punch my ticket to a red and white jersey. Fingers crossed.”

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