Message from Peter Howard – RFU Council Member


Oct 2020

On Wednesday 14 October 2020, on Facebook, I shared the Guardian’s article entitled ‘RFU Clears trans women to play rugby at all levels in England’.

I want to try to add some clarity and context to the debate and answer some of the issues raised on social media.

Until its recent decision, WR was in favour of the inclusion of transgender women in the women’s game, and the RFU were bound by that WR policy and left to determine how best to implement it. On 9 January 2019, the RFU Governance Standing Committee debated a proposal to amend the Union’s policy, process and the requirements for transgender women applying to play in the women’s game under the WR policy. An updated RFU policy and a process were approved, which set out how  the WR policy would operate in England.

The policy and process were approved by the RFU Council on 8 February 2019.

There has been no further debate had, or decision made in this regard, at Governance Standing Committee, RFU Council, or indeed at the Diversity & Inclusion Working or Implementation Groups since the RFU Council decision on 8 February 2019 and that policy, and process, has been in force for over 18 months. Neither has there been any debate or decision since WR changed its policy on 9 October 2020, when it decided to ban participation at elite level and to leave NGBs to decide their stance below that.

Essentially then, the RFU ‘comment’ widely reported in the press is not a new decision but a reiteration of what has been the status quo since 8 February 2019.

The RFU has not voted on the principle of the inclusion of trans women in the women’s game and, consequently, I personally have not had a vote on the principle.

The RFU’s official response, issued yesterday, is as follows:

The RFU along with other nations including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA has not chosen to adopt the World Rugby Transgender Guidelines at this time and will keep its current policy in place for now.  

The current policy follows World Rugby’s former transgender guidelines where athletes must apply to the RFU for permission to play.  For transgender females this includes providing evidence of testosterone levels below 5 nmol/L continuously for a period of at least 12 months immediately prior to application and they must keep their serum testosterone concentration below that level for as long as they wish to play in the female category.  All requests are reviewed by a panel including the RFU Head of Regulation & Integrity, RFU Player Welfare Manager and a medical representative appointed by the RFU.  It is important to note that we have fewer than ten transgender women currently playing in England and there has been no associated increase in injury.  

The ban proposed by World Rugby would mean excluding those people immediately without any ability for them to appeal or for their particular circumstances to be considered individually.   

The RFU welcomes the work undertaken by World Rugby however it believes the evidence is not advanced enough for us to be content that a blanket ban could not be challenged. 

The RFU wants to keep the welfare of all players at the heart of its decision making.  At the same time, rugby has always been an inclusive sport and so when considering this complex subject, we believe we also need to make sure we are taking an approach which supports inclusivity while protecting fairness and safety for female players. 

The World Rugby Transgender Guidelines have created many sensational headlines and while this is a complex subject that invokes many strong views, it is important to highlight that the RFU response is carefully considered.

As a next step the RFU will work with other Unions to continue to develop scientific work, to answer outstanding questions so that we can develop guidelines that can be implemented globally.  Our aim is to work with World Rugby to find a solution that is as inclusive as it can be, whilst achieving fairness and safety for women.  The RFU will also undertake further consultation with players in the women’s game to understand their views.   

Any comments on the above should be addressed wishing to [email protected]

Peter Howard 15 October 2020