A transgender female rugby player has raised thousands in a bid to overturn safety laws that ban players born as males from female-only sports.
The policy was introduced after World Rugby research found that trans women increase risk factors for biological women by as much as 30 percent due to power and strength differences.
Transgender rugby player Julie-Anne Curtis – who sent a legal challenge to the Rugby Football Union last August – is now raising money to fight it.
Writing as part of her crowdfunder, she said: ‘After starting my transition in 2016 I have been accepted as a woman by friends, colleagues, lovers and most importantly by my female rugby teammates as I started playing again in 2021 as my full self .
This decision effectively prohibits one population of people from playing a game. The Equality Act starts with inclusion, not exclusion.
Transgender rugby player Julie-Anne Curtis – who sent a legal challenge to the Rugby Football Union over the decision in August last year – is now raising money to fight it
The Seaford Ladies player said the rugby team community allowed her to play as herself for the first time
Ms Curtis from Brighton has raised £6,585 of her £20,000 goal with just seven days to go
‘Trans women come in all shapes, sizes and levels, just like cisgender women. The new RFU policy is nuanced and instead decided to exclude all trans women. It is difficult to see how this broad approach can be ‘necessary’.’
Ms Curtis from Brighton has raised £6,585 of her £20,000 goal with just seven days to go.
She has gained the support of Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley, who called on followers to support her “struggle for an inclusive game of rugby” in a Tweet.
The Seaford Ladies player said the rugby team community allowed her to play as herself for the first time.
But World Rugby warns that the forces and inertia faced by smaller and slower players during frequent collisions are much greater when playing against a much larger, faster player.
They say this could be a “significant determinant” in head injury factors.
In their study, transgender women were found to have up to 60 percent stronger, 15 percent faster, and a 40 percent power advantage.
This would not be changed by testosterone suppression – which would only reduce muscle mass and strength by five to ten percent.
World Rugby warns that the forces and inertia faced by smaller and slower players during frequent collisions are much greater when playing against a much larger, faster player
She has received support from Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley, who tweeted out followers to support her in her “struggle for an inclusive game of rugby”.
Swimmer Sharron Davies MBE called the campaign “dangerous and negligent” and said the RFU must stand its ground.
The Olympian – an outspoken supporter of women’s rights – appeared in three competitions for Great Britain and won a silver medal in 1980.
She said: ‘I am 100 per cent behind the RFU and World Rugby in putting the safety of female rugby players first and fair sport second as it should be.
“All the peer-reviewed science we have says we can’t mitigate the male puberty advantage. It is both ignorant and worse dangerous and negligent to put in a man’s feelings because of all the health risks for female rugby players.’
New research from Staffordshire University has found that brain injuries are often under-reported by female rugby players, in part because of the strong social identity the team shares.
Women are more likely to have concussions than men, often with more severe and long-lasting symptoms.
And experts have warned that they are more likely to develop sports-related dementia than their male counterparts.
Kim Jones, a spokesperson for the Independent Council on Women’s Sports, said: ‘Women and girls participating in competitive sport deserve access to fair and safe competition without reservation.
Swimmer Sharron Davies MBE (pictured) called the campaign ‘dangerous and negligent’ and said the RFU must stand its ground
Brighton team coaches have claimed that Curtis is not the biggest threat to their team
“Including male athletes in the women’s category removes both safety and fairness for women and results in the exclusion of female athletes.
“There can be no compromise on the eligibility of an athlete born male to enter women’s competitions.
“This is absolutely clear on the issue of safety only in any contact sport like rugby.
“It is not reasonable to raise a known safety risk for female athletes simply because they were born female.”
Brighton team coaches have claimed in an interview that Curtis is not the biggest threat to their team ESPN.
She was one of seven transgender women registered with the rugby union, and one of three who were actively playing.
A spokesman for the RFU said: ‘The RFU recognizes that the change to gender participation policy was a complex and difficult decision, and that the policy change was not taken lightly or without thorough and full research and consultation.
“We understand the pain the LGTBQ+ community, and trans women in particular, have been inflicted on, and remain committed to reviewing these policies as the evidence evolves.
She was one of seven transgender women registered with the rugby union, and one of three who were actively playing
The RFU held an extensive consultation that began with a detailed review of its policy in Fall 2020, this included a game-wide survey with over 11,000 responses, extensive consultation and listening to a wide range of independent experts and considering of all available medical evidence along with guidance from other sports organizations.
The review and consultation concluded that detailed peer-reviewed research provides evidence that there are physical differences between people whose sexes were male and female at birth, and benefits in strength, stamina and physique induced by male puberty are significant and sustained, even after testosterone suppression.
‘This knowledge forms the basis of the new gender participation policy, which concludes that including transgender males at birth in rugby for women’s contact cannot be balanced against considerations of safety and fairness.
The RFU also considered the merits of a case-by-case assessment process, but in the light of the research findings and work of World Rugby and the UK Sports Councils, and given the difficulties in identifying a credible test to assess physiological variables, it is this is currently no longer a viable option and does not necessarily ensure inclusion.’
Julie-Anne Curtis’ lawyers, Russell-Cooke Solicitors, have been contacted for comment.