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29 Jul 2022

RFL Board approves new Gender Participation Policy for Rugby League

RFL Board approves new Gender Participation Policy for Rugby League

The RFL Board has approved a new Gender Participation Policy for Rugby League. This takes effect from August 2022, with a further review due by November 2024. 

The new policy reflects both the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, which defines Rugby League as a “gender-affected activity”, and significant developments in this area over the last two years. These include the International Rugby League’s recent policy announcement which applies to this autumn’s Rugby League World Cup and guidelines published by the UK Sports Councils’ Equality Group (SCEG).

The RFL is committed to providing and supporting opportunities for everyone to be actively involved in the sport. However, it is important that the playing opportunities provided are safe and fair for all participants. This means that, when determining the eligibility criteria, a precautionary approach needs to be adopted in respect of contact variations of Rugby League, so that safety and fairness are considered alongside the principle of inclusion. 

Therefore from August 2022, for all contact Rugby League from Under-12s and above, there will be a female-only category, in which players will only be permitted to play in the gender category of the sex that was originally recorded at birth. 

There will also be certain eligibility requirements for male categories.

(for full details, see notes below)

Non-contact Rugby League – Touch, Tag, X-League and Learning Disability Rugby League – and Wheelchair Rugby League remains mixed-gender and available for all without any gender-based eligibility criteria.

The RFL has concluded a wide-ranging consultation with interested parties, Government, stakeholders, participants and individuals who continue to engage with us on this complex area. We also greatly empathise with the personal journeys that individuals have experienced, in sport and in society, and we will continue to endeavour to work with all those actively involved to help us in developing our future policies, research and work in this area to ensure Rugby League remains inclusive for all.

The RFL commits to engage with the SCEG, the IRL, other sports, Rugby League participants and other key stakeholders and specialists to keep this area under review. This includes facilitating, contributing to and/or learning from further research that may be instigated in this area as well as working with all to ensure we provide other inclusive formats of the game of Rugby League.

Notes – relevant excerpts from policy – the full policy is published here with FAQs here. 

3     RFL POSITION ON GENDER PARTICIPATION IN RUGBY LEAGUE

3.2     The RFL is committed to providing and supporting opportunities for everyone to be actively involved in the sport. However, it is important that the playing opportunities provided are safe and fair for all participants. This means that, when determining the eligibility criteria, we have had to recognise that a precautionary approach needs to be adopted in some respects so that the considerations of safety and fairness are balanced against inclusion for the reasons explained below. 

Contact Rugby League

3.3     Whilst undertaking our review and reaching our position on eligibility, the RFL has been mindful of the legislation in this area, including the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 (“the EA”). Under section 195(3) of the EA, contact Rugby League is a “gender-affected activity”. Section 195 (2) of the EA states that “A person does not contravene section 29, 33, 34 or 35 [of the EA], so far as relating to gender reassignment, only by doing anything in relation to the participation of a transsexual person as a competitor in a gender-affected activity if it is necessary to do so to secure in relation to the activity (a) fair competition, or (b) the safety of competitors”. 

3.4     We are also mindful of the SCEG guidelines that emphasise that inclusion of trans people assigned male at birth in female contact sport cannot be balanced against considerations of safety and fairness. This is due to retained advantages in strength, stamina and physique between the average transgender woman assigned male at birth (who has passed through puberty and adolescence), and the average cisgender woman. Recent research has shown that this advantage is retained even with testosterone suppression.

3.5     This means that with regards to playing and training in contact Rugby League, a precautionary approach needs to be applied in order to ensure fair competition and the safety of participants (whether that be risks to the safety of the transgender participant or risks to the safety of other participants). Therefore, due to developmental changes brought about by male puberty, it is appropriate and necessary to maintain a female only category of contact Rugby League as well as certain eligibility requirements for male categories from the Under 12 years age grade upwards and continuing into the adult game. The latter is intended to ensure that transgender people wishing to play male contact Rugby League have the appropriate experience and competence to participate safely.

Non-Contact Rugby League 

3.6     Non-contact Rugby League is not a gender-affected sport and as such “Touch”, “Tag”, X-League and Learning Disability Rugby League (“LDRL”) are mixed-gender and are available for all without any gender-based eligibility criteria. The same is true for age grade Rugby League up to and including Under 11s.