Rugby league joins clampdown on transgender athletes in women's sport

Mwamba RFC's Linet Chanya (centre) is charged by Impala players during Kenya Cup Women Rugby final at Impala Club ground in Nairobi on March 19, 2022. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Rugby league has banned transgender players from women's international competition until further notice, following global swimming's decision to restrict trans athletes' participation at the elite level.

The International Rugby League (IRL) said in a statement on Tuesday (Jun 21) that it needed to further consult before finalising its transgender policy.

"Until further research is completed to enable the IRL to implement a formal transgender inclusion policy, male-to-female (trans women) players are unable to play in sanctioned women's international rugby league matches," it said.

"It is the IRL's responsibility to balance the individual's right to participate ... against perceived risk to other participants, and to ensure all are given a fair hearing."

The ban, which comes after FINA voted on Sunday to restrict transgender athletes in elite women's swimming, drew scathing criticism from transgender advocates.

"Blanket bans on women who are trans playing against other women risks violating international human rights principles of non-discrimination, which require such policies to start from a place of inclusion," Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia, said in a statement.

"FINA failed to meet that standard, and the Rugby League’s ban also fails to do so, despite it being temporary."

Other sports have existing policies that restrict transgender athletes in top women's competition, including international rugby union, cycling and Australian rules football.

The International Olympic Committee, however, said in November that no athlete should be excluded from competition on the grounds of a perceived unfair advantage, while leaving it up to sports federations to decide.

The International Cycling Union said last week it had tightened its eligibility rules while other sports have said they are reviewing their policies.

World football governing body FIFA said that it is in a consultation process over transgender participation, while World Athletics boss Sebastian Coe praised FINA for its stance.

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