World Rugby must act on the is­sue of trans­gen­der play­ers

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - BRIAN MOORE

Just over a week ago BBC Sport ran an ar­ti­cle about Kelly Mor­gan, who was born Ni­cholas Gareth Mor­gan, and after tran­si­tion­ing to a trans­gen­der fe­male now plays in Wales for Porth Har­lequins Ladies. If you doubt the di­vi­sive­ness of this is­sue, wit­ness the de­bate on so­cial me­dia. It is toxic even for a plat­form not known for civil dis­cus­sion. The rugby author­i­ties have to recog­nise how dis­rup­tive this is­sue could be, and it must be taken se­ri­ously, for many rea­sons.

Rugby, rightly, aims to be an in­clu­sive sport, but this will be un­der­mined if it does not get its pol­icy right on the is­sue of trans­gen­der play­ers. If it is not care­ful the agenda will be dic­tated by a va­ri­ety of groups who do not care about the con­se­quences for the game, pro­vided their view pre­vails.

De­spite there be­ing very few trans­gen­der rugby play­ers, the Mor­gan story at­tracted hys­ter­i­cal com­ments like: “This is the death of rugby.” I read many claims that women’s rugby will be flooded by men who sud­denly de­cide to be­come trans­gen­der so that they can suc­ceed when they could not do so in men’s rugby.

As an ini­tial ob­ser­va­tion, men do not sud­denly de­cide they want to be­come trans­gen­der women. Even a cur­sory glance at their sto­ries shows the de­ci­sion is taken over time, fre­quently years. It of­ten pro­vokes ridicule, ex­clu­sion and, in ex­treme cases, abuse and vi­o­lence. It is not a triv­ial de­ci­sion.

Many com­ments be­tray ig­no­rance of the fact that in both men’s and women’s rugby there are dis­par­i­ties in the size, weight and power of play­ers, not least be­cause of the phys­i­cal re­quire­ments of dif­fer­ent po­si­tions. This does not au­to­mat­i­cally make rugby un­safe for smaller, lighter or less pow­er­ful play­ers and con­tact sports in­volve the risk of in­jury.

These com­ments should not be ig­nored, be­cause left un­chal­lenged they be­come ac­cepted wis­dom. Women’s rugby has had to fight hard to over­come the im­pres­sion that it is not suit­able for fe­males be­cause of the col­li­sions that are an in­trin­sic part of the game. This strug­gle will be far more dif­fi­cult if peo­ple be­lieve that trans­gen­der women ren­der the game un­safe be­cause of their phys­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity.

Mak­ing in­formed de­ci­sions about trans­gen­der fe­males play­ing

rugby is ham­pered by a lack of sci­en­tific ev­i­dence. Cur­rent stud­ies are con­fined to purely ath­letic mea­sure­ments. There is lit­tle or no rugby spe­cific ev­i­dence and no in­for­ma­tion on the is­sue of con­tact, which dif­fer­en­ti­ates it from other sports. It is not sur­pris­ing that rugby has fol­lowed ath­let­ics in its pol­icy for trans­gen­der fe­males, re­quir­ing them to take med­i­ca­tion to lower their testos­terone lev­els to a spec­i­fied range be­fore they qual­ify to play women’s rugby.

The prob­lem is this is not uni­ver­sally ac­cepted. Some aca­demics claim the range is wrong and needs to be five times lower to re­move phys­i­cal ad­van­tages. They also point out that trans­gen­der women re­tain the ad­van­tages of denser bone struc­ture, greater mus­cle mem­ory and over­all size. Bone den­sity is im­por­tant in rugby, as it af­fects the abil­ity to ab­sorb im­pacts.

It is not only the fair­ness of com­pe­ti­tion; rugby has the added di­men­sion of phys­i­cal safety. The case of Smoldon v Whit­worth and Nolan (1997) ruled on the duty of of­fi­cials and gov­ern­ing bod­ies and high­lighted the is­sue of phys­i­cal dis­par­ity when con­sid­er­ing safety. Rugby has a duty to en­sure play­ers are as safe as is rea­son­ably prac­ti­cal. Un­til rugby has bet­ter in­for­ma­tion on this safety is­sue, it would be wise to re­strict trans­gen­der women to play­ing non-con­tact rugby. This would be al­lowed by sec­tion 195 of the Equal­i­ties Act 2010, which makes it law­ful to re­strict the par­tic­i­pa­tion of trans­sex­ual peo­ple to up­hold fair or safe com­pe­ti­tion.

Two of my four daugh­ters have played rugby and women’s rugby has my to­tal sup­port. It ac­counts for more than a quar­ter of the global play­ing pop­u­la­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion in Eng­land has grown 28 per cent since 2017. These achieve­ments could be jeop­ar­dised by just one in­ci­dent of se­ri­ous in­jury or one suc­cess­ful le­gal ac­tion caused by par­tic­i­pa­tion of a trans­gen­der woman.

Le­gally, morally and for the good of women’s rugby, World Rugby needs to act now. As soon as com­pre­hen­sive re­search shows it is pos­si­ble to put trans­gen­der fe­male rugby play­ers in a po­si­tion where they pose no greater risk of harm than na­tal fe­males, they should be able to play full con­tact and be wel­comed into an in­clu­sive sport that has a good record of ac­com­mo­dat­ing les­bian and gay peo­ple. Those who still dis­agree should be hon­est and ad­mit their real agenda is not safety.

For now it is wise to re­strict trans­gen­der women to play­ing non-con­tact rugby

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