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Trans women will not be allowed to compete in any international rugby league competitions, including at the 2021 World Cup in England this autumn. The tournament was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

International Rugby League (IRL), the sport’s governing body, has vowed to look more closely at developing a “transwomen inclusion policy which takes into consideration the unique characteristics of rugby league”, saying they will use data from the World Cup to inform any future policy.

In a statement, the IRL said “Until further research is completed to enable the IRL to implement a formal transgender inclusion policy, male-to-female (transwomen) players are unable to play in sanctioned women’s international rugby league matches.

“The IRL is continuing work to review and update rules about transgender participation in women’s international rugby league and will seek to use the upcoming World Cup to help develop a comprehensive inclusion policy.”

The statement continues: “In the interests of avoiding unnecessary welfare, legal and reputational risk to International Rugby League competitions, and those competing therein, the IRL believes there is a requirement and responsibility to further consult and complete additional research before finalising its policy.

“The IRL reaffirms its belief that rugby league is a game for all and that anyone and everyone can play our sport.

“It is the IRL’s responsibility to balance the individual’s right to participate – a long-standing principle of rugby league and at its heart from the day it was established – against perceived risk to other participants, and to ensure all are given a fair hearing.

“The IRL will continue to work towards developing a set of criteria, based on best possible evidence, which fairly balance the individual’s right to play with the safety of all participants.

“To help achieve this, the IRL will seek to work with the eight Women’s Rugby League World Cup 2021 finalists to obtain data to inform a future transwomen inclusion policy in 2023, which takes into consideration the unique characteristics of rugby league.”

The IRL’s decision is a further blow to campaigners for trans inclusion in sport, coming shortly after the announcement by FINA, international swimming’s governing body, to ban trans women from elite events and a new policy from the UCI, the organisation which oversees international cycling, which severely tightens its qualification criteria.

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