Transgender women banned from competing in international rugby league fixtures

As the rugby league moves to ban transgender women from competing at international level, ITV News' Geraint Vincent has the latest on this bitter debate.

The rugby league has banned transgender women from competing in the sport at an international level.

The move comes a day after swimming’s world governing body, FINA, voted to ban athletes who have gone through male puberty from racing in women’s events.

FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said: "We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions."

The International Rugby League (IRL) followed suit, releasing a statement saying: "Until further research is completed to enable the IRL to implement a formal transgender inclusion policy, trans women are unable to play in sanctioned female international rugby league matches."

It's unclear if IRL's policy will impact any players in the upcoming World Cup.

Transgender men are not targeted in either policy and appear to still be able to compete in the male categories.

Lia Thomas is the first trans swimmer to win a major US national college title. The rule change stops her competing in women’s categories. Credit: AP

The move is the latest in a push across professional sporting bodies to restrict trans women from competing in female categories - with policies having a knock on effect for junior and amateur competitors too.

Under FINA's new guidance, trans women can only compete if they can prove "they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 [which marks the start of physical development], or before age 12".

It is highly unlikely a child wishing to transition would be able to access any form of treatment which would block puberty before the age of 12 - so in effect the new policy will exclude nearly all trans women and girls from the sport.

Earlier in the month cycling’s governing body, the UCI, voted to double the period of time before a rider transitioning can compete.

Trans cyclist Emily Bridges (who was barred from competing when British Cycling ripped up its own policy days ahead of her race) accused the UCI of a "last minute moving of the goalposts".

Cyclist Emily Bridges spoke to ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott after being barred from competing

Lord Coe has also suggested World Athletics could join swimming, cycling, and rugby league in adopting a new eligibility policy which limits trans women's participation in certain categories.

"We see an international federation asserting its primacy in setting rules, regulations and policies that are in the best interest of its sport," he told BBC Sport.

"This is as it should be. We have always believed that biology trumps gender and we will continue to review our regulations in line with this. We will follow the science.

"We continue to study, research and contribute to the growing body of evidence that testosterone is a key determinant in performance, and have scheduled a discussion on our regulations with our council at the end of the year."

Football body FIFA is also reviewing its current policy, but would not say if a change was imminent following moves by other sporting authorities. In a statement, FIFA said:

"FIFA is currently reviewing its gender eligibility regulations in consultation with expert stakeholders. FIFA thereby takes guidance from many stakeholders (medical, legal, scientific/performance and human rights) as well as the November 2021 IOC Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations. Due to the ongoing nature of the process, FIFA is not in a position to comment on specifics of proposed amendments to the existing regulations.

"Should FIFA be asked to verify the eligibility of a player before the new regulations will be in place, any such case will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, taking into account FIFA’s clear commitment to respect for human rights."

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Some welcomed the move by sporting bodies, including former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies who praised the ruling for its "fairness".

While others were critical. Australian Olympic swimmer Maddie Groves accused sporting bodies of "ostracising an already marginalised group". She added: "Shame on everyone that supported this discriminatory and unscientific decision."

Mermaids, one of the country's leading LGBTQ+ charities, said in a statement: "FINA says this is about fairness, but in reality it’s anything but. This ruling sends a cruel message to trans, non-binary and gender diverse children and young people who just want to swim with their friends, telling them that there is something wrong with them, and they don’t belong.

"We think that’s wrong, and will continue to work with governing bodies across the UK to make all sports trans-inclusive, so that every young person has that chance to dream."

World Cup winner and Olympic Champion Megan Rapinoe said she was "100% supportive of trans inclusion."

Pro footballer Megan Rapinoe said a lot of people only know a right wing perspective on the debate. Credit: AP

Speaking in an interview with Time magazine, and not specifically about FINA's policy change, the footballer added: "People do not know very much about it. We’re missing almost everything. Frankly, I think what a lot of people know is versions of the right’s talking points because they’re very loud. They’re very consistent, and they’re relentless."

The US captain stressed: "At the highest level, there is regulation... It’s not like it’s a free-for-all where everyone’s just doing whatever."

Referencing state-level laws in the US banning trans people from competing at any level in sports, Rapinoe said: "So much of this trans inclusion argument has been put through the extremely tiny lens of elite sports. Like that is not the way that we need to be framing this question. We’re talking about kids. We’re talking about people’s lives. We’re talking about the entire state government coming down on one child in some states, three children in some states."