THE Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) has provoked controversy after banning transgender women from playing contact rugby, as the debate continues on how to make the game safe and inclusive at the same time.

Until now transgender women have been allowed to participate in the women’s game in Scotland, subject to a thorough medical process including testosterone tests.

But as of February 1, contact rugby for women players will be restricted to those whose sex was recorded as female at birth under a fresh gender participation policy drawn up by the SRU this week.

There will also be a new requirement for transgender men to carry out a risk assessment before playing with a men’s team, but they will still be able to play contact rugby.

The SRU – which has followed the lead of the English RFU and Irish RFU - estimates the playing population of trans people in Scotland to be fewer than 10.

READ MORE: World Rugby must stop interfering with the game's laws - Martin Hannan

Guidance issued by World Rugby and the UK Sports Council has stated trans women have physical advantages and should not be allowed to compete in women’s games.

But LGBT clubs and inclusive sporting organisations have described the decision as “disappointing”, saying it creates yet another barrier for trans people to participate in sport when the ethos of rugby centres on it being a sport for all.

'Rugby should be a game for all'

The LGBT club Glasgow Raptors – which has transgender men playing for the men’s team – said it was “disheartened” by the move and insisted it was not based on facts.

Chairman Ross Lockerbie told The National: “We live in a time where trans people are having to jump through more hoops than ever before and this is just another aspect of a trans person’s life where they’re having to be questioned and asked for really personal details.

“Speaking to women that I’m in groups with through rugby, they are very much opposed to a ban.

“I understand people need to put safety first, but the SRU, or the RFU or the IRFU, none of them have taken into account fact-based evidence. The evidence has been based on Olympic sports and elite level rugby.

READ MORE: SNP use Commons 'prayer' tactic in bid to STOP Section 35 order

“People are assuming it’s not safe. I am fully aware there are potential safety risks but please present the scientific evidence to back that up.

“We’re only talking about nine trans players in the UK and Ireland. It’s not as if half of the female players in teams across Scotland or the UK are trans women. In Scotland there’s only two or three. People are making such a noise about less than a handful of trans women players.”

The SRU said it aimed to deal with the issue in a “sensitive manner”, adding that inclusion is the “bedrock” of the sport and is only imposing restrictions based on guidance.

The policy is set to be reviewed on an annual basis in case any new research comes about.

The National: Sam Abdulla said he is concerned the policy from the SRU does not fit in with the inclusive ethos of rugbySam Abdulla said he is concerned the policy from the SRU does not fit in with the inclusive ethos of rugby (Image: Sam Abdulla)

Sam Abdulla, chairman of Edinburgh’s LGBT team the Caledonian Thebans, said he was pleased the SRU consulted with the community.

He said: “We are grateful there was a consultation period with the SRU.

“We are also pleased the SRU have committed to review this annually if new research becomes available. I think one of our actions now is to make sure that we hold the SRU to that commitment.

“It’s disappointing the decision was taken to exclude trans women from contact rugby and to place additional burden and restriction on new trans male players.

“I mean, I’m a 5 ft 6, 80kg man, but I play rugby against 6 ft 4, 120kg men who it could be said have a biological advantage over me.

“Rugby has always been a game for different sizes and shapes, and now I question where does it end in terms of policing body shapes and sizes?”

“Trans women in rugby is appalling”

However, there are many who believe this is the correct decision which will protect women from facing players who are biologically stronger and faster than them.

Welsh Labour MP and ex-Wales rugby player Tonia Antoniazzi criticised the SRU last year for not banning transgender women from the contact game when other unions had.

She described the SRU’s approach at the time as “appalling” and added: “You cannot just apply the mantra of 'being kind' or that trans women are women to rugby - it has to be sex segregated.”

The National: Tonia AntoniazziTonia Antoniazzi (Image: UK Parliament)

Following the SRU’s latest decision, she told The National: “I welcome the decision taken by Scottish Rugby to align with the governing bodies of every other home nation and World Rugby on this issue.   

“I am glad Scottish Rugby have now taken the correct action based on fairness and safety for women and girls.”     

British shot put champion Amelia Strickler this week heavily criticised leaked plans to allow transgender women to compete in the female category in international track and field, saying it would “screw” biological women like her.

According to the Telegraph, World Athletics has secretly consulted its member federations over a proposed rule change that would stop short of an outright ban.           

What does guidance and science say?

World Rugby, the international governing body, stated in 2020 trans women who had begun male puberty should not be allowed to compete in women’s games as dangers to female players were “unacceptably high”.

It found suppressing testosterone levels “removes only a small proportion” of large physical advantages of male-born competitors.

READ MORE: RNLI rescues four people after being cut off by tide in Firth of Forth

It said in a scenario where a typical male player tackled a typical female player, the risk of head injury for the woman was 20 to 30%  higher.

The UK Sports Council also issued guidance in 2021 after finding male-bodied athletes had retained physical advantages.

Sports scientist Ross Tucker told the BBC last year: “When boys reach the age of 13 to 14, things start to change physically and we see increased muscle mass, bone density; [it] changes the shape of the skeleton, changes the heart and the lung, haemoglobin levels.

“Lowering the testosterone has some effect on those systems, but it's not complete, and so for the most part, whatever the biological differences are that were created by testosterone persist even in the presence of testosterone reduction.

“The point of the women's category is to exclude male advantage, which comes as a result of testosterone. Until it can be shown an advantage doesn’t exist in trans women, then I would say there is no basis to allow trans women in.”

Sports scientist Joanna Harper, who is transgender herself, also said to the BBC: “Until we know for sure, sport's governing bodies should do the best they can with the data that exists, with the knowledge that we have today, with the understanding that any policy they create now should be subject to change once we get more data.”