The Rugby Football Union’s move to ban trans women has caused diversity and inclusion representatives in grass roots rugby to resign their positions over the weekend.
Matthew Mason-Hames and Dairin Keating, diversity and inclusion leads for the county boards of Hampshire and Somerset, respectively, walked away from the volunteer roles in the wake of last Friday’s vote to change participation rules.
Mason-Hames, a mental health professional who also runs a charity providing sports clothing to disadvantaged people, had been Hampshire’s diversity and inclusion lead since February 2021.
“People are saying I should stay in and change things but I can still change things from the outside,” he told Telegraph Sport. “I cannot sit there and conscionably be a representative for rugby when its views are so totally different to mine.
“It seems to be based on other governing bodies’ decisions almost like a ‘get out of jail free’ card rather than being a leader at the forefront of exploring a solution.”
In an open letter addressed to the RFU, which was posted on Twitter on Saturday, Mason-Hames branded the science and feedback considered by the governing body as “mixed at best”.
The vote was passed after 33 council members voted in favor of changes with 26 voting against and two abstaining. Maggie Alphonsi, the former England Women flanker who is a member of the RFU council and eager to run for election to become president in the future, revealed on Twitter that she had voted against the change.
Previously, there were seven trans women registered with women’s teams. These individuals were treated on a case-by-case basis with regard to their participation.
Now, however, in what the RFU called a “precautionary” ploy, they have been barred from women’s full-contact rugby union with “difficulties in identifying a credible test to assess physiological variables” highlighted as one reason.
Mason-Hames voiced his doubts that it would be unmanageable to have continued with the status quo, even if the number of trans women playing swelled to 10 times its current level.
“It is a small portion of the general population but that’s the point of inclusion,” he added. “You don’t say ‘it’s too difficult, let’s not bother’. Is a case-by-case basis a perfect solution? no.
“Is allowing anybody to walk into a rugby team and suggest that they identify as female in any situation a perfect solution? no. Is banning everybody a perfect solution? no.
“I think the case-by-case basis was the best of a bad bunch. People simply aren’t identifying as a different gender to get on in sport – not in team sports and not at the level we are talking about, which is the community game.”
Acknowledging that the outcome was bound to be divisive given the strong and diverse opinions on the issue, Mason-Hames suggested that the RFU could have been more transparent with any scientific evidence presented to its council members.
By citing size, safety and strength, though, he argued that core principles of the sport had been compromised.
“We all know that rugby is all about differences in size, speed and strength,” said Mason-Hames. “That’s what makes rugby rugby.
“I imagine there are more difficult conversations going on in cycling and swimming, but the joy of rugby is that it’s a team game where, no matter your size, no matter your strength, no matter your speed, there is a position for everyone and you play at the appropriate level. That’s why I struggle with the blanket regulation.”