Commentary

Rugby is for every body

July 9, 2021 12:20 am

Photo from the USA Rugby official site.

By Kat Amrhein

Kat played for the Detroit women’s team in 2012-2014. Photo provided.

During my time as a collegiate rugby player for the Miami Women’s Club Rugby Team, I played alongside individuals of different shapes, sizes, races, sexual orientations and gender identities. Each player brought their distinctive abilities to the team, and there was acceptance for the diversity within our club.

A short and scrappy former soccer player was able to squeeze into any ruck. With quick feet, our queer full-back with a long blonde ponytail could breeze past any opponents as her loud play calls echoed in the air. Our entire pack of forwards brought a mix of former ballerinas, queer, Black, thin, gender non-conforming and powerful players into one unstoppable collective unit.  

Rugby is a unique sport that has gained global popularity. In the United States, there are an estimated 100,000 active players that include both youth and collegiate players. It is also a sport conducive to equity as it is played with identical rules and equipment by both men’s and women’s teams at all levels. This is unlike some sports, including golf or lacrosse, where equipment or requirements vary based on the gender specification of a team. 

The neutrality baked into rules between gender specific teams is why USA Rugby allows for mixed gender teams for youth athletes through 7th grade. In fact, many players at some point in time have played on co-ed teams. As a cisgender and heterosexual woman, I enjoyed playing both co-ed games and alongside athletes who are transgender and athletes that identify outside a gender binary. I treasure the inclusive atmosphere that surrounds the game I love. 

Rugby is where I learned to love my body. For its strength, to carry me through a grueling match, and for its resilience, to heal and grow with every hit. Rugby helped me to cherish my body, imperfections and all. It’s where I experienced the importance of working as a team, of handling disappointment with grace, and of embracing my teammates for who they are on and off the field. 

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the recently proposed legislation regarding the participation of transgender athletes in sports here in Ohio. The proposed “Save Women’s Sports Act” (HB61 & SB132) is a discriminatory piece of legislation aimed at banning athletes who are transgender from participating in women’s sports in Ohio’s high schools and institutions of higher education. 

This law also warrants asking the question, what exactly do our representatives think this proposed legislation is saving women’s sports from? It certainly isn’t saving women’s sports from the lack of equity in media coverage, recognition, equipment and facilities, pay at the professional level, or overall representation in sports. Instead it is using women’s sports as coverage to advocate for transphobic and sexist policies. 

It is fostering a division in women’s sports that both bans deserving athletes who are transgender from gaining foundational experiences that sports provide and preventing athletes who are not transgender from having these same experiences with equally talented players. This is in direct opposition to the existing diversity, equity, and inclusion measures that are present today to protect players from discrimination (e.g., USA Rugby’s policy specifically states, “USA Rugby strictly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.”) 

In 2008 at the activities fair where I first signed up for rugby, my future teammates told me that “Rugby is for Everybody.” This is more than a recruitment slogan; this is the creed by which rugby is played. Rugby is a sport that is, fundamentally, for everyone’s body.

Discriminating and barring athletes who are transgender from playing a sport like rugby goes against the fundamentals of the game and against the wishes of the athletes like me who love the sport. I want rugby to remain inclusive, where everybody is welcome and every body is celebrated. Instead of banning players because of their body, I urge the Ohio legislature to focus on making sports more equitable for everybody.

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