Monday, 15 Jul 2024

'Anti-Muslim' Tag Rugby group defends policy of including trans-women

Tag Rugby group at centre of trans row after ‘wholeheartedly encouraging’ male-born players to join female-only sessions – with the boss insisting ‘trans women are women’

  • EXCLUSIVE: A tag-rugby group has defended moves to include trans women
  • The decision was labelled exclusionary by some Muslim campaigners 

Tag rugby bosses have been accused of discriminating against female Muslim players after saying they ‘wholeheartedly encourage’ trans women to play in female-only practice sessions – despite some people objecting to the concept on grounds of their religion. 

Tag Sports CIC – who have not had a trans attendee before – say trans people would be ‘welcome’ to join despite there also being groups for mixed genders and men.

The group were blasted after a woman from a Muslim background complained saying she would not be comfortable being in a group with people of the opposite biological sex.

Last year, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Rugby Football League (RFL) both blocked transgender people from competing in women’s rugby – although Tag Sports CIC is not affiliated with either. 

Barrister Lucy Masoud, 45, argued that by being inclusive to trans women they were excluding underrepresented groups like her own.

Tag Sports CIC – who have not had a trans attendee before – say trans people would be ‘welcome’ to join despite there also being groups for mixed genders and men (stock image)

Ben Shanahan-Sanders, the programme lead for Tag Sports CIC, has defended the policy 

Ms Masoud posted the full response from Mr Shanahan Sanders on Twitter

But in responding to her, Ben Shanahan-Sanders, the programme lead for Tag Sports CIC, argued: ‘Tag Sports is an organisation that has been set up to increase underrepresented groups taking part in Tag Rugby.

‘Though we have never had anyone from the Trans community join one of our courses, we would wholeheartedly encourage a trans woman to do so and gladly welcome them. 

READ MORE: RFU and RFL BAN transgender players from playing in women’s games

‘We create safe spaces that enable our participants to learn without fear of judgement and pride ourselves on increasing opportunities and attempting to remove barriers facing people from accessing sports and exercise.’

In a following email – which Ms Masoud posted online – he added that a person’s sex and gender are separate things.

He continued: ‘We encourage all women, no matter their religion, ethnicity or sexuality.

‘Trans women are women, that is their gender, so they would be welcome at our sessions.’

Responding to her questions about her religious background, he added: ‘Should somebody’s religion prevent them from attending the sessions due to the highly unlikely event that another attendee may be a trans woman, that would be really disappointing, but this is certainly not us prioritising one under-represented group over another.

‘We are open to all women joining our sessions and always will be.

‘If their beliefs or opinions prevent them from doing so, then that is outside our control.’

He added that he would never expect a Muslim woman to be alone with a man at any point, and that the sport hoped they would see more female players from that faith in future.

He continued: ‘I completely understand that this topic is seen  by some as contentious, but our stance is clear and we will not be changing our mind on it. Sport is for everyone.’ 

Former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies supported Ms Mahoud on social media 

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova also expressed her reservations to the new policy 

The two former sports star expressed their reservations to the policy on Twitter

After Ms Masoud posted the exchange on social media, she received support from several high profile female sports stars including Martina Navratilova and former British Olympic silver medalist swimmer Sharron Davies who warned: ‘I think we should be able to make room for mixed sex tag rugby providing that is how it is advertised. And all concerned know there may be males on the opposition.

‘With any luck that means no collisions (though all my kids played rugby at a high level and even tag had impacts accidentally.)’

Meanwhile, nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova – a prominent campaigner in women’s sport reposted the exchange saying: ‘hmm’. 

The group have also slammed by women’s rights campaigners who accused of limiting the ability of people who are born female to play sport.

Director of Sport for Fair Play for Women Fiona McAnena said: ‘What we’re seeing here is that so-called inclusion ends up excluding women. 

‘That’s the problem – that tag rugby has decided, in effect, that they don’t have a female-only game. They don’t have female-only sessions – and he’s essentially said he doesn’t care. 

‘They’ve got men’s, they’ve got mixed, and now they’ve made their female only mixed. And some women will have to self-exclude. We’ve seen this in other sports as well and it’s a big concern, because even though there might not be a safety issue and even though this is not competition, how can women train and get into competition if the training sessions are not single sex? 

‘Clearly, women are going to miss out and it’s very disappointing. One minute they’re saying they want to increase female participation and the next minute they’re saying we’ll have to allow male bodies there too – and if you don’t like it, tough luck.

‘Women and girls are under-represented in physical activity and so there’s a big push to make sport more accessible for women and girls – if they are going to allow male people to turn up then that’s a huge deterrent for a lot of women and girls. 

‘So it’s a complete contradiction and they shouldn’t be advertising women-only sessions when it’s truly mixed sex. If they think women want to play in a single sex session then that’s what it should be. 

‘Why does he think that a male who says he’s a woman should be welcome at a women-only session when that person has two other options? They have mixed and they have a men’s game. Whereas a Muslim woman has no alternative.

‘There are lots of women why women might want a female-only session and they don’t have to explain themselves. It’s a completely reasonable expectation. And for some reason Tag Rugby have decided that it’s more important to let males who think they’re women to join in with the women and that leaves certain women with no option at all to play Tag Rugby. And that is not inclusive.

‘People concerned with equality and inclusion can be dismissive of women’s needs. We have a legitimate need too and a religious minority like a Muslim women have a legitimate need. It’s disappointing that someone who purports to be concerned with inclusion is so dismissive of those women’s needs.

‘It’s very disappointing to see a man being so dismissive of women’s needs when the whole push here is to get more women active. He’s just utterly dismissing their needs in favour of male needs.’

MailOnline reached out to Mr Shanahan-Sanders for a response to the controversy. 

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