Transgender players have been blocked from competing in women’s union and league rugby in England. The Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Rugby Football League (RFL) amended its regulations to permit only players assigned as female at birth to compete in women’s matches.
The new guidance will apply to six transgender women registered to play in England.
The RFU Council voted in favor of updating its gender participation policy for the 2022/2023 season with 33 in favor, 26 against and two abstaining.
“It was a complex and difficult decision and the policy change was not taken lightly or without thorough and full research and consultation.” the council said in a statement on Friday.
After a two-year review, the governing body voted on a complete ban on transgender women from women’s rugby in England, a change from its previous policy. In 2019, the RFU assured transgender women of their inclusion and issued guidelines to be met by all transgender players before they could play rugby.
“The RFU Council has determined that until such time as new further peer-reviewed science is available, a precautionary approach is appropriate to ensure fair competition and safety of all competitors,” it said.
It held extensive consultation, studied scientific evidence and sought guidance from other sporting bodies before voting on the policy amid safety and fairness concerns.
“There are physical differences between those people whose sex originally recorded as male and those as female at birth, and advantages in strength, stamina and physique brought about by testosterone and male puberty are significant and retained even after testosterone suppression.” the RFU said.
The RFL board also approved its new gender participation policy, which will take effect next month and be reviewed by November 2024.
“For all contact Rugby League from Under-12s and above, there will be a female-only category, in which players will only be permitted to play in the gender category of the sex that was originally recorded at birth,” the RFL said. “Non-contact Rugby League … and Wheelchair Rugby League remains mixed-gender and available for all without any gender-based eligibility criteria.”
World Rugby last year banned transgender players from competing at the elite level of the women’s game, citing safety concerns.
World Athletics and soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, are among a number of sports federations reviewing their guidelines on the involvement of transgender athletes following world swimming body FINA’s ruling to ban anyone who has been through male puberty from elite women’s competitions.
RFU president Jeff Blackett said many people would be disappointed by the decision, but it was “based on all the scientific evidence available”.
The RFU added that it also considered the merits of a case-by-case assessment process, but it was no longer a viable option due to the “difficulties in identifying a credible test to assess physiological variables.”
Transgender players whose sex recorded at birth is female may still play in the male category if they provide written consent and a risk assessment is carried out.
The RFU announced that they contacted the registered trans women players “to offer its support in continuing to encourage them to participate in the sport.”
Reuters contributed to this report.