Trans Women in Rugby


Last update 14/10/2020

On 9 October 2020, World Rugby, the global governing body for rugby union, decided to bar trans women—people who are biologically male, but identify as women – from playing in the international women’s game, on the grounds that it is unsafe, as they approved updated participation guidelines.

These new guidelines have been heavily criticised by many academics and organisations such as IGR (International Gay Rugby) who are the umbrella organistion for the world’s inclusive clubs – their statement can be viewed here and their working group document can be viewed here as it goes in opposition to the current IOC (International Olympic Committee) policy on transgender inclusion.

These new guidelines have been also been dismissed by many ‘tier 1’ and ‘tier 2’ rugby unions including England Rugby (RFU), New Zealand Rugby, Rugby Australia, Rugby Canada and USA Rugby, and over 100 professional athletes and referees, including Scotland international player Jade Konkel coming out strongly for Trans inclusion, the open letter can be viewed here

Aberdeen Taexali Rugby Club released a media statement on Sunday 11 October 2020, which can be read here

With this being such a divisive issue, some people may disagree with our stance, but we have put together a FAQ style page explaining our position, and why we disagree with this decision.

We’ve also been in contact with local women’s teams as we feel their voices are the ones that should be heard in this debate and not necessarily that of non-stakeholders in rugby.

Why do Aberdeen Taexali care about this decision? You don’t have a women’s team so it doesn’t affect you

As one of only three independent LGBTQ+ inclusive teams in Scotland and proudly having trans players among our membership – we are one of the very few voices in Scotland for transgender players in the sport.

We truly believe rugby is a game for everyone, and that every player should be able to access the team they identify with, and have the support network from likeminded individuals. Whilst ensuring that the safety of all players and equity of the women’s game can be maintained and improved on, without a blanket exclusion of a minority group from a sport which has been known for pioneering inclusion.

Who makes up Aberdeen Taexali?

The Aberdeen Taexali Rugby Club membership is currently known to consist of gay, straight, bisexual and transgender identifying men, from a variety of different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. We are always working on ways to make this club more accessible to all sections of society.

Why doesn’t Aberdeen Taexali just welcome in trans women into the club?

We respect that trans women identify as female and as such they should be able to play for ladies teams, and vice versa – we are proud to accept trans men into our squad. We are an inclusive team so we’d be pleased to welcome in female players to our club for non contact sessions (as we’re prevented from holding mixed-gender contact training)

What does Scottish Rugby think?

We don’t know. They have yet to make any statements about the guidelines. Their current transgender policy can be found here

Are you advocating for a change to the rules on trans participation?

No. At this stage we are asking World Rugby to keep the rules as they are until comprehensive sport-specific research has been undertaken.

What about the research in the report?

We find the research underpinning the decision problematic because:

  • It is non-athlete and non-rugby specific and which uses inaccurate modelling to reach its conclusions;
  • It presents no evidence of physical performance and ability to play safely of trans women;
  • It takes no account of the current situation of transgender rugby players providing no baseline or impact assessment;
  • Questions have been raised about impartiality and bias of the process and some of its contributors.

What about the safety of women?

Genuine concerns about safety should be addressed on a case by case basis throughout the contact sport. Some trans women are small and some women who are not trans are very big and muscular. Bearing in mind the diversity of physiques on any rugby teams and the variety of player positions, a blanket ban seems like an excessive solution to a what is potentially a very small issue. As Dr Sheree Bekker, a sports injury specialist from the Department for Health at the University of Bath has said, “preventing injury is more about skill/technique training and conditioning than anything else”.

What about the fairness of the women’s game?

World Rugby’s trans policy has seen a small number of trans women participate in the sport since 2013. During this time, only a small number of trans women have joined the sport in the UK, and none of these are playing at the highest level. If the existing policy was ‘unfair’ surely it would mean that we would see more trans women fast tracking the performance pathway.

What about women’s rights?

Many of the people in the organisations who have created the club pledge are feminists. Some of them are trans and some not. They are united in the belief that women’s sport needs investment and promotion equivalent to men’s sport and that there is a huge discrepancy currently between the men’s game and women’s game in terms of development. We do not see the inclusion of trans players (approximately 1% of the population as a whole) as a threat to the growth and development of women’s rugby. We see diversity as good for the whole rugby community.

What are the players’ thoughts?

Aberdeen Taexali has spoken with local women’s club rugby teams about this issue, we thank them for their thoughts which we are very encouraged by and will continue to be in dialogue with them on this issue. We hope to be able to post their views on this page once we’ve put together a more comprehensive segment of quotes from more players and teams.