Should transgender women participate in Rugby? – Conservative Article
In a recent article by the Guardian, a World Rugby working group has suggested a potential ban on transgender women in the sport. The reason for this is cisgender female safety. According to the working group, cis-women have a 20 to 30% higher likelihood of injury when tackled by a trans-woman compared to a cis-counterpart. This contrasts with the policy from the International Olympic Committee, that suggests trans-women are fine to play with their cis-counterparts, after 12 months of a reduction in testosterone.
I agree with the working group and their proposition of a ban, but this is not a clear cut matter.
Humans are clearly a sexually dimorphic species; that is the very reason why we have segregated sports. For almost every man — apart from very, very rare genetic conditions — puberty is the process that creates elevated physical prowess. The minuscule minority of exceptions, do not destroy the concept of sex. The differences between the sexes become even larger when one looks at the extremes of the bell curve, where our athletes live.
On the other hand, many anti-trans spokespersons cite that transgender women are simply ‘men in dresses’. However, if a trans-woman goes through hormonal replacement therapy (HRT), there is zero chance that she has retained all of the benefits of going through male puberty. Most notably, she loses a substantial amount of muscle mass, the new level falling within normal cis-female ranges. She does keep other benefits, however.
Before going into detail on the effects of HRT, there is an obvious point to state: trans-women are not, biologically, women. No amount of surgery or hormones will give a trans-woman XX chromosomes (female DNA), or functioning female anatomy.
This is not anti-trans: I fundamentally believe in individual autonomy. There is still plenty of work left yet to de-stigmatise gender dysphoria. If transitioning in adulthood is going to aid an individual and their struggles, absolutely they should go ahead.
Those opinions are not mutually exclusive: I can be pro-trans, without choosing to be self-delusive, and reject biology.
Now, there are two levels to this debate. Firstly, fairness in non-contact sports. Secondly, safety in contact sports. In sports such as Powerlifting, Gymnastics, or Athletics, the debate surrounding “should trans-women play”, is not as consequential as in sports such as Rugby, or Mixed-martial arts, etc. Bad injuries can have a lifelong impact. We need to get this question right.
There is no evidence to suggest that transgender women (Male to Female), who transition before puberty, have any physiological advantage over their cis-female counterparts. Essentially, these athletes are no stronger having transitioned before puberty, than if they were born female. In my opinion, they should be cleared to play.
The conversation changes when discussing trans-women who have experienced male puberty. Hormonal replacement therapy reduces red blood cells count, haemoglobin and muscle mass, among other things irrelevant to rugby. Hormonal replacement therapy does not reduce or change height, width, bone density, muscle fibre type, and heart & lung size, among other things relevant to rugby.
Let’s unpack the above findings. Height, width, and bone density lead to bigger players. Heart and lung size lead to fitter players. Finally, certain muscle fibre types, as those who go through male puberty possess higher frequencies of type II fibre types, create more powerful players.
These aspects are critical when it comes to contact sports. Anyone will tell you, getting tackled by a bigger and more powerful athlete hurts a lot more than getting hit by a smaller, less powerful counterpart. This is why it is wholly unsurprising, that World Rugby has found a 20% to 30% greater chance of injury for a cis-woman when getting hit by a trans-woman, compared to a cis-counterpart.
Thus, I agree with World Rugby. Transgender women who transitioned after male puberty should not be allowed to play with their cisgender female counterparts. The effects of male puberty are not fully negated through anti-androgenization (HRT).
This does, unfortunately, leave post-puberty transitionees without a sport. However, this is necessary to preserve the female side of contact sports. It is an uncomfortable conclusion, but safety cannot be disregarded in favour of dogmatic inclusivity. The emotional argument of missing out has no weight compared to the physical argument of injury.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Alexander Dennis
Point of Information
This is a question of safety, not fairness — a Liberal Response
I’d like to start by applauding Alex for tackling one of the thorniest issues in sport in such an honest and compelling manner. His argument is well-researched, well-structured and I completely agree with his perspective. Fundamentally, this debate boils down to one important thing. This is a question of safety, not fairness.
Rugby is clearly a contact sport with high danger levels. Injury rates are three times higher than that in football and approximately 1 in 4 players are injured every season. It’s also safe to say that injury severity is directly linked to the greater force caused by greater body mass. The bigger the player, the harder the tackle right?
So, with the latest research confirming that a reduction of testosterone doesn’t lead to proportionate reductions in muscle mass, strength or power (all important determinants of injury risk), I too find myself agreeing with World Rugby. Any trans-woman who has gone through male puberty retains a significant physical advantage after their transition.
This advantage is so great, and the potential consequences for the safety of participants in tackles and scrums concerning enough, that welfare should be prioritised. Therefore, trans-women who transitioned after male puberty should not play alongside their cisgender female counterparts. This is not because it’s unfair for cis-females, this is because it’s unsafe for cis-females.
One thing I think Alex explains really well is that one can be pro-trans without choosing to be self-delusive and reject biology. I fully support transgender rights. However, if we ignore the differences in strength between trans-women who transitioned after male puberty and cis-women, we put cis-women at serious risk.
Rules based on proven science, peer-reviewed research and actual biology are the fair and safe way to categorise contact sports. The debate needs to move toward how to add more inclusive options for trans-women in rugby. An open class maybe?
The safety issues for rugby are immense and we cannot just ignore them. Safety must come first.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Libby Gilbert
Inclusivity for transgender people is vital in Sport – a Labour Response
Rugby is a game for all. It is a game that is meant for all shapes and sizes. I applaud Alex for broaching such a delicate subject and I think his article is brilliant. However, I disagree. I ardently advocate for trans rights and this means placing no obstacles in the path to equality.
Having played rugby all my life I am all too familiar with attempting to tackle someone twice my size, who by the grace of God has a better biological makeup than me for Rugby. Unfortunately, in a game such as Rugby where each position requires people of a certain build, there will always be times when someone comes off worse in the contact. If a game claims to be for ‘all’ it must live by this moral code.
I cede that at the professional level, where power and size are amplified by elite-level nutrition and training programmes, having cis and transgender athletes poses issues. However, the grassroots majority that make up RFU membership, generally showcase lower fitness levels. It is, after all, a game for anyone.
There are less RFU registered rugby players in this country (340,000) than there are transgender people (based on government estimations: over 500,000). This article tackles a small issue and in doing so centres the conversation of sports injuries on an already targeted minority.
Alex and World Rugby’s caveat about pre-puberty individuals being allowed to play with their self-identified gender is a good concession. The sporting world is already rife with discrimination (see football and racism). I fear that further limitations on who can play the self-proclaimed “game for all” are divisive and largely unnecessary.
If we want to talk about Rugby’s issues with injuries, let’s focus on the men’s professional game. Due to a drive for more physical prowess and a packed schedule male athletes can sustain life-changing brain injuries at a much higher rate than 20 years ago. Centring this conversation on transgender individuals is in my mind misguided.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Henry Mckeever