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International Rugby League Bans Transgender Women From Participating

The International Rugby League (IRL), a global governing body for the Rugby League World Cup, announced Tuesday that it will ban transgender women from participating in sanctioned women’s matches until further notice. 

The league’s decision comes two days after FINA—the international governing body for water sports—adopted a new “gender inclusion policy” that restricted participation by transgender athletes in women’s events. The International Cycling Union (UCI) also updated its eligibility rules for transgender athletes last week. 

In a statement released Tuesday, the IRL said that it is “continuing work to review and update rules” and will “seek to use the upcoming World Cup to help develop a comprehensive inclusion policy.” 

Currently, the ban will be in place for the 2022 Rugby League World Cup, which begins in England on Oct. 15.

The IRL explained its reasoning for the decision, citing 2021 published advice on creating eligibility rules for transgender athletes from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC’s advice shifted the focus from individual testosterone levels and called for evidence to prove when a performance advantage existed, while also stating that no athlete should be excluded from competing based on an “unverified, alleged or perceived unfair competitive advantage due to their sex variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status.”

“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,” the IRL’s statement continued. “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.“

FINA’s new policy permits only swimmers who transitioned before age 12 to compete in women’s events. The organization also proposed an “open competition category,” which FINA said it would be setting up “a new working group that will spend the next six months looking at the most effective ways to set up this new category.”

As international sports governing bodies continue to make decisions regarding the participation of transgender women, FIFA is expected to review its own transgender policy, according to Simon Evans of Reuters. Soccer’s international governing body is basing its decision on guidance from various medical, legal, scientific, performance and human rights experts, as well as the position of the IOC.

“FIFA is currently reviewing its gender eligibility regulations in consultation with expert stakeholders,” a spokesperson told Reuters. “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.”