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Transgender players are barred from participating in women’s union and league rugby in England. The Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Rugby Football League (RFL) have amended their rules to allow only players assigned female at birth to participate in women’s matches.

The new guidance applies to six transgender women registered to play in England.

The RFU Council voted 33 in favour, 26 against and two abstentions in favor of updating the gender share policy for the 2022/2023 season.

“This is a complex and difficult decision and the policy change was not taken lightly or without thorough and thorough research and consultation.” Council said in a statement On Friday.

Team New Zealand's Michaela Blyde blocks Team Canada's Chrissy Scurfield for their team's second try during the women's rugby sevens Pool A match between Team New Zealand and Team Canada at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games at Coventry Stadium.

Team New Zealand’s Michaela Blyde blocks Team Canada’s Chrissy Scurfield for their team’s second try during the women’s rugby sevens Pool A match between Team New Zealand and Team Canada at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games at Coventry Stadium.
(Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

After a two-year review, the governing body has voted to ban transgender women outright from women’s rugby in England, a change from its previous policy. In 2019, the RFU assured transgender women of their inclusion and issued guidelines that all transgender players must meet before they can play rugby.

“Until new, more peer-reviewed science becomes available, the RFU Council has decided that a precautionary approach is appropriate to ensure fair competition and the safety of all competitors,” it said.

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It held extensive consultations, studied scientific evidence and sought guidance from other sporting bodies before voting on the policy amid safety and fairness concerns.

“Physiological differences exist between individuals whose sex is initially recorded as male and female at birth, and the benefits in strength, stamina, and physique through testosterone and male puberty are significant and are maintained even after testosterone suppression.” The RFU said.

Team Australia huddles during the women's rugby sevens Pool B match between Team Australia and Team South Africa on day one of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games at Coventry Stadium.

Team Australia huddles during the women’s rugby sevens Pool B match between Team Australia and Team South Africa on day one of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games at Coventry Stadium.
(Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

The RFL board also approved its new gender participation policy, which comes into effect next month and will be reviewed by November 2024.

“For all contact rugby league under-12s and above, there is a female-only category in which females are only allowed to play in the gender category of their registered sex at birth,” the RFL said. “Non-contact rugby league … and wheelchair rugby league are mixed-gender and open to all without gender-based eligibility criteria.”

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Pavlina Kuproa plays during the Women's 7S Rugby World Cup Qualifier game between England and the Czech Republic, Arcul de Triomphe Stadium, Bucharest, Romania.

Pavlina Kuproa plays during the Women’s 7S Rugby World Cup Qualifier game between England and the Czech Republic, Arcul de Triomphe Stadium, Bucharest, Romania.
(Alex Nikodim/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

World Rugby last year banned transgender players from competing at the elite level of the women’s game, citing safety concerns.

World athletics and soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, are among several sports confederations reviewing their guidelines on the inclusion of transgender athletes, following a ruling by world swimming body FINA to ban any male adolescent from participating in elite women’s competitions.

RFU president Jeff Blackett said many people would be disappointed by the decision, but it was “based on all available scientific evidence”.

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The RFU also considered the merits of a case-by-case evaluation process, but said it was no longer a viable option due to “difficulties in identifying a reliable test to assess physiological variables”.

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Transgender players registered as female at birth can still play in the male division if they provide written consent and undergo a risk assessment.

The RFU announced it had contacted registered trans women players “to offer its support in encouraging them to participate in the sport.”

Reuters contributed to this report.