The dispute resolution organization for rugby league has prohibited transgender women from participating in women’s international matches until further notice.
The International Rugby League has joined other sports organizations in restricting male-to-female transgender athletes from competing in women’s divisions, including the International Swimming Federation (FINA) and the International Cycling Union (UCI). In a statement, the IRL said it is “continuing work to review and update rules” and will “seek to use the upcoming World Cup to help develop a comprehensive inclusion policy.”
The transition policy is not in effect for the Women’s Rugby League World Cup, which begins in England on October 15. “Until further research is completed to enable the IRL to implement a formal transgender inclusion policy, male-to-female (transwomen) players are unable to play in sanctioned women’s international rugby league matches,” the press release read.
The International Rugby League Federation (IRLF), which last reviewed transgender participation in international rugby league in January and February 2021, considered several relevant developments in world sport. Among these was the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) publication of its November 2022 Framework on Fairness, Non-Discrimination, and Inclusion on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations. The IOC concluded that it is the remit of each sport’s governing body to determine how an athlete may be at a disproportionate advantage compared with their peers—taking into consideration the differing nature of each sport.
Australian transgender female Caroline Layt, who played elite women’s rugby league after she transitioned, told Reuters “It’s disappointing. We’re human beings the same as everyone else. It just tells trans kids and trans adults that you’re not worthy. Don’t even bother showing up. What’s the point?”
In recent months, the International Olympic Committee’s decision to allow transgender athletes to compete in the Olympics has led governing bodies to establish new gender participation frameworks for their sports. The IOC’s new rules ban male-to-female transgender athletes from competing in women’s divisions, while FINA and the UCI have developed detailed policies that restrict participation.
On Sunday, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) approved a new policy regarding transgender athletes. The policy says that male-to-female transgender athletes will only be eligible to compete in the women’s categories if they transition before the age of 12 or before they reach stage two on the “puberty Tanner Scale”, which measures physical development during puberty. The policy also says that athletes who have previously used testosterone as part of female-to-male gender-affirming hormone treatment will only be eligible to compete in women’s competitions if the testosterone was used for less than a year in total, the treatment didn’t take place during puberty and testosterone levels in serum are back to pre-treatment levels. In response to FINA’s decision, International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said that “sports at the Olympic Games are governed by IFs”.
In connection with the eligibility criteria for sex-segregated competition, the Framework outlines IFs’ role without being mandatory. The previous Consensus Statement published by IOC on eligibility for transgender athletes and athletes with sex differences in 2015 was also non-binding for IFs.
The International Olympic Committee has decided that sports bodies are the best organizations to define factors that contribute to performance advantage in the context of their own sport. They are also the best organizations to determine the threshold at which an advantage may become disproportionate, devise relevant criteria, and develop the mechanisms needed to offset disproportionate advantage when it is determined to be present.
Lord Coe, president of Olympic and Paralympic Sports, stated to his BBC interviewer that the sport might look somewhat similar to FINA’s course because FINA has endeavored to restrict the choice of participation. In addition, the UCI announced last week that it has increased the time period for lowering testosterone from 12 to 2 years and reduced the acceptable limit.
Rugby league and rugby union differ in their rules and also have different governing bodies. Last year the Rugby Football Union, the governing body of rugby union in England and Wales, said it did not recommend that transgender women play women’s contact rugby “on safety grounds at the international level of the game.” However, its advice was not binding and allowed national federations to implement their own grassroots policy. In its statement on Tuesday, the IRL said in the interests of avoiding unnecessary welfare, legal and reputational risk to International Rugby League competitions, and those competing therein,” more research was needed before finalizing a more detailed policy. “The IRL reaffirms its belief that rugby league is a game for all and that anyone and everyone can play our sport,” the statement said.
It is the NRL’s responsibility to balance a participant’s right to their participation in rugby league with all other player’s welfare considerations and to make certain that they are fairly heard.
The IRL plans to continue working with the eight teams that compete at the Women’s Rugby League World Cup to develop evidence that can help them shape a transgender participation policy in 2023.