The sport of rugby league on Tuesday banned transgender players from women’s international matches while it develops a “comprehensive inclusion policy”. Its decision came a day after international swimming effectively banned transgender athletes from women’s races, placing them instead in a new “open category”. Rugby league authorities said they needed to conduct further consultations and research to finalise a new policy for 2023, citing the “welfare, legal and reputational risk” to the game and players. Until then, transgender women players “are unable to play in sanctioned women’s international rugby league matches,” said a statement from the 13-a-side game’s governing body, the International Rugby League.
The decision means transgender athletes will be banned from this year’s Women’s Rugby League World Cup in England in November.
Rugby league authorities cited the International Olympic Committee’s decision last year that each sport should determine how athletes might be at a “disproportionate advantage”.
“The IRL reaffirms its belief that rugby league is a game for all and that anyone and everyone can play our sport,” it said.
The sport said it had a responsibility to balance each player’s right to take part against the perceived risk to other players “and to ensure all are given a fair hearing”.
– ‘Inclusion policy in 2023’ –
The governing body said it would work with the eight nations taking part in the Women’s Rugby League World Cup for a “future trans women inclusion policy in 2023”, taking into account the “unique characteristics” of rugby league.
Swimming’s governing body FINA made its decision to exclude transgender swimmers from women’s races after setting up legal, medical and athletes’ committees to examine the issue.
FINA decided that male-to-female transgender athletes could only join women’s races if they had not experienced any part of male puberty.
FINA said its medical committee found that males acquired advantages in puberty, including in the size of their organs and bones, that were not lost in hormone suppression.
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe has hinted track and field could follow swimming in bringing in a tougher policy on transgender athletes competing in women’s events.
“My responsibility is to protect the integrity of women’s sport and we take that very seriously, and if it means that we have to make adjustments to protocols going forward, we will,” said Coe, who was present in Budapest at the swimming world championships on Sunday.
“I’ve always made it clear: if we ever get pushed into a corner to that point where we’re making a judgement about fairness or inclusion, I will always fall down on the side of fairness.”
Coe said biology “trumps gender” and that athletics would continue to review its rules in line with this.
Under World Athletics rules, transgender women have to show they have low testosterone levels for at least 12 months before competition.
Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, has also toughened its rules on transgender eligibility by doubling the time period before a rider transitioning from male to female can compete.
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