For several months now, Rugby Australia has been in possession of a transgender participation guideline developed by World Rugby in consultation with developmental biologists, medical experts and sport scientists.

The World Rugby Guideline runs to 38 pages. It has a reference list of 45 scientific reports. It finds that it is neither safe nor fair for transgender players who are biologically male to play in women’s rugby, demonstrating with significant rigour that a situation where a male player tackles a female creates “a minimum of 20 to 30 percent greater risk for those female players”. Rugby Australia is yet to respond to this document or release it publicly.

Rugby Australia recently released its own trans inclusion guidelines. It contains no references to scientific reports and doesn’t mention the World Rugby findings of significantly increased head and neck injury risk to female players. It lays out a procedure to allow biological males identifying as women to play women’s rugby.

As with trans inclusion guidelines developed by Sport Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission last year, the Rugby Australia Guideline emerged completely out of the blue yesterday following secret and closed consultation with handpicked participants. RA has adopted the style and language of the Sport Australia guideline, which erroneously told sporting clubs that “participation in sport should be based on a person’s affirmed gender identity and not the sex they were assigned at birth”.

Multiple legal experts with whom I have discussed Sport Australia’s guidelines agree they fundamentally misrepresent the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which makes clear that competitive sport can be segregated on the basis of sex.

To the majority of Australians, pages of scientific analysis and legal interpretation are not required to understand why biological males competing in women’s sport undermines the very purpose of women’s sport – to provide fair competition for female players and athletes.

But it’s 2020 and we’re living in a world in which the CEO of Sport Australia tersely answers a question about what the organisation understands a woman to be: “Sport Australia has not defined the term woman”. We are long past the point of relying on highly paid administrators to exercise common sense.

That being said, one would have thought though that the expert advice provided to Rugby Australia was so thorough and indisputable regarding the risk of injury to female players that the Board had no moral or legal alternative but to listen, and make the research available to Sport Australia (which somehow forgot to include any scientific analysis in its guidelines) and other Australian codes.

It’s also fair to say the countless female participants in sport and the general public, which provides millions of dollars in taxpayer funding to these sporting bodies to promote female participation, should have been consulted on the development of rules about who can play women’s sport. Instead, eight major Australian sporting bodies and Sport Australia ran a secret process led by a lobby group (Pride in Sport) and presented the outcome as a fait accompli to their female players.

“Everybody should be able to play and inclusion is the right thing to do,” proclaim Rugby Australia’s guidelines.

Putting aside the fact that protecting female players from a 30 percent increase in the risk of head and neck injuries would also seem to be “the right thing to do”, the implication that designated sporting competition for people of the male sex and female sex is somehow not inclusive should be tested.

When you add in the mixed and social competitions offered by most codes, sport is already highly accessible to Australians who want to play. It’s a strange leap of logic to suggest that inclusivity requires people to be able to play in categories specifically not intended for them.

No doubt Rugby Australia and the other sporting codes who have ignored the risk of injury to women will claim to have consulted widely, but it’s abundantly clear there is no mechanism for Australian women playing community sport to provide honest feedback. Since I began advocating on this issue, I’ve been contacted by hundreds of women in sport who are concerned about the erosion of female-only competition but who, almost without exception, fear the consequences of speaking out.

I’ve heard horrific stories about female players being threatened, suspended, and told that their common-sense views are in breach of the law. As the subject of an anti-discrimination complaint myself for saying that women’s sports and toilets are designed for females, I have no reason to doubt how real the consequences are.

Sporting groups who ignore women’s views and deny the realities of biological sex may genuinely believe they are being inclusive, but eroding the safety and fairness of women’s sport will never be the solution to greater participation.

Unfortunately, it’s apparent that sporting administrators and bureaucrats are hopelessly captured by the idea that allowing biological males into women’s sport is necessary and progressive. As many in the LGB community have pointed out, powerful lobby groups previously focused on LGB inclusion now require sports and businesses to adopt their version of trans inclusive policies. CEOs and Diversity and Inclusion Managers desperate for the tick of approval to meet KPIs seem to consider there’s no alternative but to go along with it.

Having made such strides in building women’s sport in the last decade, the last thing we should be doing is undermining that progress to pursue more fashionable inclusivity agendas. Free public debate and strong leadership from Government will be required to restore an appropriate balance.


This article was originally published in The Australian and has been republished with Senator Chandler’s permission

Claire Chandler

Claire Chandler is a senator for Tasmania.