(Aug. 10, 2022) Today the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) announced a new Gender Participation Policy for 2022-2023 which denies trans women the opportunity to compete in the women's category in any contact rugby match for players 12 and over. The rules apply to Ireland and Northern Ireland rugby matches but not to international competitions, which default to the World Rugby policy.
Players under 12 or in non-contact rugby can participate according to their gender identity provided they disclose and undergo a special registration process.
Players in contact rugby must play according to their sex assigned at birth, with the exception of transgender men who are not undergoing hormone treatment, who may continue to compete in women's rugby or may compete in men's rugby if approved via a "risk assessment" evaluation.
The new policy does not explicitly mention where a trans woman can participate; instead, it erases trans women and relegates them to the men's category based on assignment at birth.
The new IRFU policy points to a larger issue in sport: when international federations consult with known anti-trans individuals & groups as their "experts" & use manipulated data/studies, it becomes easier for national governing bodies to parrot these policies without considering the greater impact on the sport. The truth is, very few athletes will ever be elite or professional athletes. To impose restrictions that ban participation on the everyday athletes (which comprises the majority of athletes in any sport) not only hurts the sport but it also limits the sport's ability to grow.
The vast majority of those who participate in sport do so for the community & comradery of being on a team, as well as to challenge themselves, stay fit & have fun. And yes, in some cases athletes desire to be competitive. But fairness in competition & inclusion is not an either-or. Sports can be inclusive and competitive at the same time.
The argument that size & strength differences of trans women will result in injury to cis women in rugby or any sport denies the reality that there is a vast range of size, strength, height, weight & ability among cis women in sport. Policing the size, strength, height, weight, or any other makeup of an athlete sets a dangerous precedent of policing athlete's bodies. While that works in a weight class-based sport, team sports have a diverse range of athlete sizes & that's what makes teams work. To be clear: IRFU did not make a policy that imposes size restrictions on athletes; IRFU dodged the policing of bodies by implementing a full-on ban of trans women in the women's category, which is equally awful policymaking. Simply put: to force trans women into the men's category (even if you rename it an "open category") or to not mention trans women at all in where you allow athletes to participate is to erase trans women from your sport. Which is, unfortunately, exactly what rugby wants.
IRFU and World Rugby's policies for transgender athletes are among the worst, most restrictive policies in sports.