NRL considering its stance after transgender athletes receive international ban

The NRL is yet to decide whether to follow suit after the International Rugby League banned transgender athletes from competing in this weekend’s Test matches and the upcoming women’s World Cup, which will be held concurrently with the men’s event in October and November in England.

The decision comes a day after transgender swimmers for females. The International Rugby League made the ruling on male-to-female players ahead of this weekend’s representative round, a decision that will stand until further research is completed into the issue.

The IRL is continuing work to review and update rules about transgender participation in women’s international rugby league and will seek to use the upcoming World Cup to help develop a comprehensive inclusion policy, the governing body wrote in a missive to its member nations.

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

In reaching this position, the IRL, which last reviewed transgender participation in international rugby league in January-February 2021, considered several relevant developments in world sport.

Not the least of these was the IOC’s publication of its November 2021 Framework on Fairness, Non-Discrimination and Inclusion on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations.

The IOC concluded that it is the remit of each sport and its governing body to determine how an athlete may be at a disproportionate advantage compared with their peers – taking into consideration the differing nature of each sport.

In the interests of avoiding unnecessary welfare, legal and reputational risk to International Rugby League competitions, and those competing therein, the IRL believes there is a requirement and responsibility to further consult and complete additional research before finalising its policy.

The IRL reaffirms its belief that rugby league is a game for all and that anyone and everyone can play our sport.

It is the IRL’s responsibility to balance the individual’s right to participate – a long-standing principle of rugby league and at its heart from the day it was established – against perceived risk to other participants, and to ensure all are given a fair hearing.

The IRL will continue to work towards developing a set of criteria, based on best possible evidence, which fairly balance the individual’s right to play with the safety of all participants.

To help achieve this, the IRL will seek to work with the eight Women’s Rugby League World Cup 2021 finalists to obtain data to inform a future transwomen inclusion policy in 2023, which takes into consideration the unique characteristics of rugby league.

The NRL said it was still developing its policy.

The NRL is undertaking ongoing engagement with experts and stakeholders regarding transgender participation, an NRL spokesperson said. The policy will be determined by the [Australian Rugby League] Commission after all advice is carefully and sensibly considered.

Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia, was critical of the IRL’s stance.

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 unless an exclusion can be justified as proportionate to any risks identified, Brown said in a statement.

FINA failed to meet that standard, and the rugby league ban also fails to do so, despite it being temporary.

International Rugby League and other sporting bodies must consult with affected people and provide a detailed explanation of the evidence they are relying upon before they exclude players from the sports they love. Given the small number of trans athletes, the international principle of proportionately justifies taking a case-by-case approach – rather than imposing a blunt and harmful ban on everyone, no matter their differences.

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