World Rugby considering banning trans women from women’s rugby

As I’ve said before, trans people should have every civil right that “cis” people have, and I think it’s only decent to honor their request about what pronouns they use.  But this does not mean that trans women should have every right that cis woman have, as there are circumstances when equal treatment is trumped by other considerations. That does not make one transphobic, despite the claims of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others, who defend trans women’s rights to participate in, say, sports—the hardest case to make for trans rights.

The reason is, of course, that even with hormone treatment and surgery, the data so far suggest that in terms of muscle mass, bone density, and upper-body strength, a biological male who transitions to female gender still retains male-like traits, even after hormone treatment and especially if they transition after puberty. And in some cases neither surgery nor hormone therapy is required: all that’s needed to compete in women’s sports is the simple declaration that you’re a women.

In a disheartening move, the ACLU has joined on the side of the defense in a suit brought by three Connecticut girls who claim that the state’s policy of allowing transgender women to compete in women’s sports is illegal.  What makes this case easier than usual is that Connecticut has a state law saying that your gender is whatever you say it is, which means that surgically unaltered and hormonally untreated biological males can still declare that they’re women and then compete in women’s sports. Naturally, they’ve cleaned up in that state (and elsewhere), especially in track and field and weightlifting. Nevertheless, the ACLU claims that challenging the Connecticut law amounts to discrimination against transgender women.  They don’t mention that it also amounts to discrimination against cis women, who have to compete on a tilted playing field.

As I wrote in 2019 about hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which the Olympics allows as a way for biological males to compete in women’s sports, so long as they’ve had HRT for a year and testosterone levels are below a threshold level.

From the Guardian:

If you start HRT after you’ve already developed the musculature and bone structure of a biological male, and then transition to female, you don’t lose all that bone and muscle. It seems clear that this gives many transgender women a leg up in women’s sports.

This seems to be the case for the weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who, competing for New Zealand, transitioned from male to female in her thirties, and then won two golds and a silver in three women’s heavyweight categories at the Pacific Games in Samoa in early July. (I believe she’s undergone HRT.) There were objections from other weightlifters and Samoans (they had their own local favorite), just as Connecticut non-transgender women who compete in track and field have begun to object to what seems a palpably unfair way to interpret “women” when it comes to high school athletics. (Three of those women have filed a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit against Connecticut, claiming that the state’s policy denies them the opportunity to get college scholarships that come from winning races.)

Now, according to this article in the Guardian, World Rugby, after commissioning a study, is considering banning trans women from women’s rugby. The reason: precisely because trans women are on average stronger than cis women, and risk injuring the latter in a rough-and-tumble sport like rugby. Read about the issue by clicking on the screenshot below. Uncharacteristically, the woke Guardian doesn’t take the side of trans women here, though it often injects opinion into news reports:

Here’s the gist of the argument:

The Guardian can reveal that in a 38-page draft document produced by its transgender working group, it is acknowledged that there is likely to be “at least a 20-30% greater risk” of injury when a female player is tackled by someone who has gone through male puberty. The document also says the latest science shows that trans women retain “significant” physical advantages over biological women even after they take medication to lower their testosterone.

As a result, World Rugby’s working group suggests that its current rules, which allow trans women to play women’s rugby if they lower their testosterone levels for at least 12 months in line with the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines, are “not fit for the purpose”. The draft proposals are likely to be seen by women’s groups as an important new approach towards the sensitive issue of trans inclusion, one based on biological sex and the latest science rather than how someone identifies.

While the draft proposals may not get such a positive welcome from trans rights groups, the draft document acknowledges that the working group will consider its position if the scientific evidence changes. It also recommends that trans men should be allowed to play against biological men, provided they have undergone a physical assessment and have signed a consent form.

The draft proposals, which have been sent for feedback to individual unions, are a result of a wide-ranging consultative process that began with a ground-breaking meeting in February with leading scientists, medical and legal experts as well as representatives of trans and women’s groups in an attempt to create a consensus around the latest research while also considering player welfare and inclusivity issues.

Crucially the draft proposals, which have been seen by the Guardian, accept that anyone who has gone through male puberty retains a significant physical advantage after their transition. It also recognises that the advantage is so great – and the potential consequences for the safety of participants in tackles, scrums and mauls concerning enough – it should mean that welfare concerns should be prioritised.

“Current policies regulating the inclusion of transgender women in sport are based on the premise that reducing testosterone to levels found in biological females is sufficient to remove many of the biologically-based performance advantages,” the draft report says. “However, peer-reviewed evidence suggests this is not the case.

“Ciswomen players (who do not undergo androgenisation during development) who are participating with and against transwomen (who do undergo androgenisation during development) are at a significantly increased risk of injury because of the contact nature of rugby.”

It adds: “While there is overlap in variables such as mass, strength, speed and the resultant kinetic and kinematic forces we have modelled to explore the risk factors, the situation where a typical player with male characteristics tackles a typical player with female characteristics creates a minimum of 20% to 30% greater risk for those female players. In the event of smaller female players being exposed to that risk, or of larger male players acting as opponents, the risk increases significantly, and may reach levels twice as large, at the extremes.”

. . .As World Rugby’s working group notes, players who are assigned male at birth and whose puberty and development is influenced by androgens/testosterone “are stronger by 25%-50%, are 30% more powerful, 40% heavier, and about 15% faster than players who are assigned female at birth (who do not experience an androgen-influenced development).”

Crucially those advantages are not reduced when a trans women takes testosterone-suppressing medication, as was previous thought – “with only small reductions in strength and no loss in bone mass or muscle volume or size after testosterone suppression”.

In contrast, trans men will be allowed to compete in men’s rugby, though they have to get a physical assessment, a “therapeutic-exemption-use certificate”, whatever that is, and sign a waiver saying they understand that they may be at greater risk of injury:

A draft version of the waiver for transgender men to sign, seen by the Guardian, says: “I acknowledge and accept the injury risks associated with transgender males playing contact rugby with males who are statistically likely to be stronger, faster and heavier than transgender males, as described in the World Rugby Transgender Guidelines which I have read and understand.”

Well, World Rugy’s ruling appears to be based on data, and if those data are correct I cannot see any good reason to allow transwomen—whether they’ve had surgery or hormone therapy or not—to compete in women’s rugby. The same goes for other sports in which bone density and muscle mass gives you an advantage over biological women. But if you feel otherwise, you need to understand the consequences of that decision, especially if you define “trans woman” as “anybody who feels they are a woman.” Even with HRT, you’re beginning a process that will lead to severe attrition of women’s sports as we know them.

And if having an opinion on this leads to your being called “transphobic,” well, that’s just the kneejerk reaction of those who don’t want to deal with an ethical issue whose best solution contravenes their ideology.


h/t: Jeremy

44 thoughts on “World Rugby considering banning trans women from women’s rugby

  1. “If you start HRT after you’ve already developed the musculature and bone structure of a biological male, and then transition to female, you don’t lose all that bone and muscle.” In other words, transwomen athletes have been taking steroids for decades – why are they allowed to compete against rules-abiding female athletes?

  2. Well darn. I was generally in favor of using testosterone levels as a guide for placing competitors in different ‘leagues’, as I thought that would be the fairest solution to all and allow many trans competitors to compete in the league they preferred without any performance advantage (or disadvantage). However science progresses in it’s understanding, and it seems we’ve learned this would not be as fair as we thought it would be. Back to the drawing board…

    1. I once thought that categorizing everyone with a Y chromosome as male might work. Then I learned that this would exclude a double-digit percentage of professional female athletes.

      1. It would still work, although it would indeed exclude ‘women’ like Caster Semenya.
        Now CS is no cheat, she had the external genitalia of a women as a child and didn’t know better.
        In the other hand I think the ‘rights’ of women without a ‘Y’, should take precedence.
        [The fact that there are double digits per hundred (%) among ‘female’ professional athletes, but single digits per thousand among the wider female population speaks for itself.]

        1. I’ve just skimmed some, but from my admittedly shallow dip into the pool, I think no, it wouldn’t work. Apparently (a woman) having a y chromosome doesn’t always lead to increased testosterone levels or other “unfair” performance enhancements. Sometimes yes, but sometimes no. Ms. Semenya appears to be a double rarity, in that she has both the chromosome and increased testosterone levels.

          1. You have to draw the line somewhere. This does not apply just to “who is female for the purposes of sport”, but any division of humans into two groups. There are always a few people at the margins for whom the rules are going to be unfair. Well, tough.

            There’s no way you can draw this particular line without dumping on somebody. Either you give up and don’t draw the line at all or you accept that there will be a very few individuals who are going to be upset.

            By the way, I’d like to see the citation for there being a double digit percentage of women in professional sport with a Y chromosome.

        2. Perhaps do away with men’s and women’s sports and define qualification on XX and XY genotype, like people tried to do in the past. Competitors who do not fit in, because of genetics or gender preference, can create new categories, or be spectators.

  3. This is why I gave up my membership in the ACLU.
    If there is not some logic and reason finally applied to this issue, in the future are we going to be asking why there are inequitable outcomes for cis women versus trans women in sports? Hmmm? And appointing commissions to “study” this?

    1. Oh it will be worse than that. I’ll predict that the next woke step here is to ban any attempt to collect statistical data on the performance of cis vs. trans competitors, as categorizing them as such counts as violence against and non-recognition of trans women as real women.

    2. I gave it up when they announced that they’d no longer be defending the First Amendment. Of course, their position on this issue came soon after. Standing up against defending the First Amendment was just the termites’ coming out party (no pun intended).

  4. I think it’s worthwhile pointing out that the ACLU, to be logically consistent, had to be in favor of abolishing women’s sports as a separate category from men’s sports. The reason for having two categories is the difference in average physical ability between men and women. You cannot accept this fact as a valid reason for having two categories and at the same time reject the same fact as a reason for not allowing trans women to compete in women’s sport. Logically inconsistent positions can be rejected without further discussion.

    1. “You cannot accept this fact as a valid reason for having two categories and at the same time reject the same fact as a reason for not allowing trans women to compete in women’s sport. Logically inconsistent positions can be rejected without further discussion.”

      So put side by side their arguments look like this:

      Q: Why should transwomen be allowed to compete with cis-women?

      A: Because there are no great differences in the physical abilities of these two groups.

      Q: Why have separate male and female divisions in sports?

      A: Because there are great differences in the physical abilities of these two groups.

      So perhaps the ACLU and others think that the differences between transwomen and cis women are simply not nearly as great as those between cis-men and cis-women?

      1. I understand the argument, but the current ACLU response will not be “b/c there are no great differences in the physical abilities of these groups”. Their response will be: “because trans women are women”. It all hinges on identity.

        1. “because trans women are women”

          “And if you don’t accommodate us we will erase you!”

        2. ‘Their response will be: “because trans women are women”.’

          Apparently something is so because someone says so. I wonder if the ACLU would hire a lawyer on that basis (or on the basis of apprenticeship, like Lincoln).

  5. Men and women generally have different Gaussian (bell curve) distributions of physical characteristics. You add MtF transgenders to female distributions you will usually end up with a non-Gaussian distribution, double humps for height or weight for example.

    The most important joint in your body for sports are your hips. That is where all of the power your legs generate are transferred into your upper body. Try throwing a ball sitting on a floor with your legs crossed. Then throw the same ball on your feet. A women’s hips are designed for giving birth and are not nearly as efficient for transferring the power generated by your leg into their upper bodies, as men’s hips are.

    Biology is what gives men their advantage over women in most sports, not their gender. Therefore, biology should determine who is allowed to play in women’s sport, gender is irrelevant.

    1. Ive seen one of these graphs, and it is as you describe. I don’t remember what was being measured. Strength, speed.. something. The distribution between bio women and bio men in this particular graph was barely double humped, with a large range of overlap so that lots of bio women outperform bio men. This graph was used to argue why trans women should be allowed to compete with cis women. See? There is no “performance gap” between bio men and bio women! All that fear mongering that trans women cannot be competed against fairly is refuted by this graph! This was being argued by a well known professor who should know better.

      But of course that is total b.s. What is really happening is that elite trans women athletes are being allowed to compete with cis women athletes. That is where an extreme outlier of the graph is being let to compete with the middle of the graph. There is no overlap that way! The trans women athletes will generally mop the floor with the cis women athletes. It’s math.

  6. For the life of me I can not understand why any trans-woman would even want to win a weightlifting title or a wrestling title against cis women. Do they seriously feel a sense of pride in these wins? If I was a trans-woman I find it hard to believe that I would not know that my competing in sports against biological women was not only unfair but dangerous. I cant’ believe that I would feel a sense of pride at winning a boxing match or even a running race against biological women. I have compassion and sympathy for the overall plight of trans-women but I have the very opposite of compassion and sympathy for these particular trans women. I have suspicion and disdain for them. Just like the general population, some trans women, it seems, are total dicks.

    Cancel me now.

    1. The problem is if a trans-woman wants to compete in sports, which in of itself should be fine.

      But if she competes as a man, then she undermines the dogma that transwomen are no different than cis-women (i.e. “male” and “female” are just social constructs). So can’t do that.

      But if competes as the woman that she now apparently is, she will run into the problems that you describe.

      All of this is pointing to the need for a separate trans category alongside male and female.

    2. Warmly agree with this, and have said the same in different forums. I find these people contemptible.

  7. A ‘Therapeutic-exemption-use certificate’ allows an athlete to use an otherwise banned medication if they can demonstrate that they have a genuine medical need. There has been a lot of controversy other them, with some commentators commenting that a startling number of world class cyclists have asthma and need steroid-based inhalers.

  8. I think the rugby authorities are worried about future lawsuits when a biological female gets injured by a trans player. In my view this is inevitable, it would just be a question of how much time it would take. Rugby is a very physical sport and the top level players are regularly stretchered off the playing field. Imagine a boxing match or a UFC fight where the biological female is getting pounded by the trans fighter. Maybe that would be the wake-up call that’s needed.

  9. It’s not just upper-body strength. Men are generally much faster than women.

    Check out this mixed 4X400 relay (two men and two women for each country). All but one team had their men run first and last. The exception was Poland, who ran their men in the first two legs, the strategy being to build up a big lead.

    You can see the footage and whether that strategy worked.

      1. More important than the mix of women/men in this race is – you see how many white folks on that American team?

        1. The white competitors were still doing the workshop on white fragility and won’t be ready to take part until they’re drawing their pensions.

        2. “More important than the mix of women/men in this race is – you see how many white folks on that American team?”

          How many Asians were there?

  10. It seems there is a double standard because they allow trans men to be at higher risk. Why don’t they make all the cis women sign a waiver that they accept a higher risk of injury playing against trans women?

    1. That is a good point. But if it were to go that way, would the majority of the bio women accept that condition? I would not be surprised that they would refuse to sign and refuse to play.

  11. World Rugby wisely excludes ‘trans women’ (actually men) from woman rugby.
    There are some fields where the feminist ‘definition’ of a woman: you are a woman if you have a vagina, comes in handy (although it does not really take some hermaphrodites into account).
    I like to see the women in sports, in prisons, and indeed in my bedroom, to be of the vagina having type.

  12. I played a lot of rugby in my youth, played for a Welsh college (we used to play teams of miners from the valleys), and suffered from a bad back and bad neck for years afterwards. I once saw an English centre three-quarter break his neck while making a tackle in an international at Twickenham. I can’t remember the man’s name now, but he never played again and, so far as I recall, was confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his days (he may be still alive). The game was always dangerous, and, despite the various bans now in place on high tackles (one reason for my neck problem, another being repeatedly kicked in the neck in a ruck) and other dangerous play, the modern game is far more physical than it was. It is lunatic to allow trans-women to play against women in rugby, or in any other sport.

    1. I do wish rugby were televised here in the states more often. American pro football is one tough sport. Brutal, even, and for some reason I love to watch it for that reason. But rugby… that is one. non-stop. tough. sport.

      1. Have you tried watching ice hockey? If you’re looking for a game that’s brutal, but involves play for far longer stretches and brilliant strategic systems and moving parts combined with split-second decision-making, ice hockey might be your jam! And I’m always happy to answer questions and discuss the sport.

  13. Google ‘Piers Morgan and Lisa Nandy’ (of the UK Labour Party, and one of those who signed up for a purge of all members of the party who did not sign up in favour of the extreme claims being made by certain trans-women & their supporters). In the interview, she merely evades, evades, & evades, and accuses Morgan of setting groups against each other and preaching hate. Keir Starmer has sensibly refused to support such a purge and such claims.

  14. Perhaps the issue could be resolved by testing for X and Y chromosome types, returning to the old debate of sex (genetic) rather than gender (self-identification) and whether the person is gaining a sport advantage by dint of hormones (natural or artificial). This is not discriminatory, since it is evident that, on average, the Y chromosome confers an unfair sports advantage.

    It could actually be argued that to allow a person with a Y chromosome to compete against “women” (defined as NOT having a Y chromosome) is discriminatory against Y only carriers. That is the essence and reason for the Man/Woman separation in sport in the first place. The Men/Women categorisiation of sport would then be a biological SEX issue and not a GENDER one.
    There is then the problem of XYY, XXX etc.

    From a legal point of view it can be argued that trans women are entitled to fully equal treatment under the law which means that they may NOT be entitled to GAIN ADVANTAGE by dint of their genetic sex difference (this would constitute POSITIVE descrimination under UK law and could be considered therefore as illegal as negative discrimination). Advantage no longer constitutes equality. XY in women’s rugby would constitute (genetic) discrimination against women.

    The upshot would be that transgender women (XY) could be free to compete only as men and trangender men (XX) could choose to compete with either men or women(since they would be considered disadvantaged against “men” because of lacking the Y chromosome and would therefore be freely choosing to compete against advantaged competitors. Their choice.

    1. That’s what I’ve suggested too. At a local level, it would be hard to find enough trans to make a team. At the national and international level it should be easier. Hard problem though.

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