The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) has confirmed it will ban transgender women from female contact rugby competitions for the forthcoming season after carrying out a review of its transgender policy.
In a statement issued this afternoon, the IRFU said the decision was based on medical evidence and follows world rugby guidance.
This means contact rugby for players in the female category will be limited to those whose sex was recorded as female at birth.
Two registered players in Ireland will be impacted by the rule change and the IRFU said it is working with those affected by “including options to remain active in the game, such as non-contact playing formats, refereeing, coaching, and volunteering”.
Transgender men will continue to compete in the male category if they provide written consent and a risk assessment is carried out.
“The IRFU is keenly aware that this is a sensitive and challenging area for those involved and the wider LGBT+ community and will continue to work with those impacted, providing support to ensure their ongoing involvement with the game,” the statement reads.
“Recent peer reviewed research provides evidence that there are physical differences between those people whose sex was assigned as male and those as female at birth, and advantages in strength, stamina and physique brought about by male puberty are significant and retained even after testosterone suppression.
“The IRFU has spoken to players we are permitted to contact directly and will work with them to support on-going participation in the sport”.
Anne Marie Hughes, Spirit of Rugby Manager, who has worked on policy development in this area, said the IRFU is “committed to inclusivity” and has worked with the players and other groups in the LGBT+ community to explain that this change is based solely on new research related to safety.
“This is a particularly sensitive area, and it is important that respect is shown to all members of our rugby family and the wider community,” she said.
“We continue to stand with the LGBT+ community, and while we accept that today some may feel disappointed in this decision, we want to again underline to them – there is a place for everyone in rugby, and we can all work together.”
It follows a similar decision by the English RFU, which said it was banning the participation of transgender women from competing in female contact games after evidence showed the “advantages in strength, stamina and physique brought about male puberty are significant and retained even after testosterone suppression”.
In its updated policy document, the IRFU said it has “endeavoured to strike the difficult balance between both safety and fairness and inclusion”.
Players are only permitted to play in the women’s category if the sex that was originally recorded at birth was female and hormone treatment has not commenced. A transgender man may continue to play female rugby provided no hormone treatment has commenced.
The previous policy used testosterone low levels as a measure to allow transgender women to participate, but the IRFU said several advances in recent studies confirm that only small reductions in strength and lean body mass with no loss in bone mass are seen after twelve months of testosterone suppression in transwomen who undergo typical medical interventions.
The International Rugby League also recently announced that transgender women cannot compete in women’s international rugby league matches, including the World Cup which begins in October.
A spokesperson for Emerald Warriors RFC, Ireland’s first LGBTG+ inclusive rugby team, said what it called the “blanket ban on a section of our community” was hugely disappointing and regressive.
The club said the move “further reduces spaces for transgender people to exist safely,” impacting rugby, sport and our society.
“This step does not follow the values of our game.
"We urge the IRFU to work closely with our community. Our transgender and rugby family need to be central to all discussions and request the IRFU carry out its own research and review for better policy decision making.
“We are gravely concerned with the messaging to transgender youth, their families, friends and allies clearly making them no longer welcome in rugby.”
The club asked that the IRFU pause the process and maintain the previous case by case policy.
“There is a risk that the fall out and repercussions of this policy will accelerate into other sports and transphobia overall.
“For many years we have prided ourselves in collaborative work with the IRFU promoting ‘Rugby for All’ leading the way with Diversity, Inclusion and Equality.
“We welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with the decision making committee and Board of the IRFU.
"Our transgender and rugby family need to be central to all discussions.
"We have requested the IRFU closely monitor the reaction from this updated policy, carry out its own research and review for better policy decision-making as soon as possible.”
The club had previously said it was “gravely concerned” about such a change, adding: “There is a risk that the fallout and repercussions of any policy change will accelerate into other sports and transphobia overall.”
The move has also been slammed by Trans Equality Together as something which will have "deep-reaching negative consequences across society".
Moninne Griffith, co-director of Trans Equality Together, said: “It is openly sending a message to trans
people, their families and allies that they are not welcome in the rugby community. It is also setting a dangerous precedent for other Irish sporting organisations to follow their lead in banning trans players. We note the IRFU’s values include respect, integrity, and inclusivity – this decision flies in the face of these values.”
Tina Kolos Orban, who is also co-director of the equality group, described the research the decision was based on as "problematic".
"Ireland is not the UK, and any decision regarding trans players in Ireland should be based on Ireland-specific research which we are urging the IRFU to undertake.
“The trans community and the wider rugby community should be central to any decision being made regarding who can and cannot play, and we are calling on the IRFU to begin this consultation process. This blanket ban is a blunt tool that has not sought to understand the views of those affected by this move.”
Some are also urging the IRFU to reconsider its decision.
Paula Fagan, CEO of LGBT Ireland, said "Ireland can and should do better".
“Ireland should not follow the UK’s lead in trying to reduce the number of spaces that trans women can exist in safety. There is no place in Ireland for the divisive and polarising rhetoric regarding trans rights
we have seen taking place in the UK. Ireland can and should do better.”
Ms Fagan concluded: “We are urging the IRFU to reconsider their decision. The IRFU has an opportunity to be leaders in the space of diversity, inclusion and equality, and we would welcome an opportunity to discuss this further with the IRFU.”