Enraged activists have responded after reports that trans players in England might be required to submit to height and weight checks to determine if they could potentially harm their fellow players in women’s rugby.
It doesn’t, however, doesn’t go as far as the decree from World Rugby which has banned trans women from international rugby, citing a “20-30% greater risk” for potential injury when a female player is involved in a collision with a player who has undergone male puberty.
The proposed RFU policy would target players who are in excess of 5ft 7in (170cm) tall and around 198lbs (90kg) in weight.
The RFU says in their proposal that the aim is to “strike a balance between fairness, inclusion and safe participation,” while also acknowledging that the physical safety of players is foremost in their thoughts.
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“We understand there are several misconceptions about transgender participants in rugby as well as in wider society. The policy aims to provide a fair opportunity for all those who wish to take part,” the RFU says in a video to accompany the draft legislation.
“It’s important to consider the individuals involved and the sense of community and acceptance that our transgender players tell us rugby provides for them.”
In 2020, an exploratory body working on behalf of the sporting global governing body, World Rugby, determined that players who are born male “are stronger by 25%-50%, are 30% more powerful, 40% heavier, and about 15% faster than players who are assigned female at birth.”
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It was also suggested that the impact of a trans player taking medication to suppress testosterone is negligible, leading to calls for banning trans players from the sport on health and safety grounds.
The RFU has previously followed the decree of the International Olympic Committee which had stated that trans athletes who take the necessary hormone suppressants to an adequate level for 12 months are eligible to compete – but the proposal from the RFU indicates that a policy change could be underway, after independent research indicated that it “identified that differences in height, weight and strength provide transgender women with a potential advantage over cisgender women“, per The Guardian.
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The new proposal suggests that potential players should undergo a height and weight assessment to determine if there are any physical advantages that a candidate may have. The policy also suggests that trans men will be required to sign a waiver saying they understand the potential risks in playing men’s rugby.
Throughout the last three years, the RFU has received just over 50 applications from trans men, women and athletes identifying as men who want to play women’s rugby. Each one was cleared to play by an independent panel.
News of the potential policy change was greeted with pessimism from LGBTQ groups. Stonewall’s Maria Munir argued that “no one should be excluded because of who they are and it’s vital that everyone – including trans and non-binary people – is given the opportunity to play the sports that they love.”
Predictably, the news also drew a pile-on from activists on Twitter.
“I’m 170cm and a few years ago I was about this weight. I was so weak I couldn’t have hurt a small child except by falling down (admittedly a real risk at the time). Would they have humiliated me like this if I’d tried to join a rugby club to improve my mental and physical health?” wrote one in reaction to the proposal.
I’m 170cm and a few years ago I was about this weight. I was so weak I couldn’t have hurt a small child except by falling down (admittedly a real risk at the time). Would they have humiliated me like this if I’d tried to join a rugby club to improve my mental and physical health?
— Rhiannon Garth Jones (@rhigarthjones) March 31, 2021
“Transphobes have finally defined what a woman is. Turns out it’s someone under 90kg or 170cm tall. Glad they’ve cleared that up. What heroes. Protecting women by drawing lines about what we’re allowed to look like. Top work. Lovely stuff,” read another sarcastic message.
Transphobes have finally defined what a woman is. Turns out it’s someone under 90kg or 170cm tall. Glad they’ve cleared that up. What heroes. Protecting women by drawing lines about what we’re allowed to look like. Top work. Lovely stuff. https://t.co/YLQSB7nwWn
— Girl on the Net (@girlonthenet) March 30, 2021
Statistics indicate that around 1 in 4 rugby players will be injured throughout the course of a season, with neck and head injuries frequent concerns. It is estimated that around 25% of these injuries occur when players of contrasting experience and/or size tackle one another.