Transgender players have been banned from women’s internationals while the sport’s governing body does further research on its inclusion policy.
The move comes as a number of sports are considering transgender inclusion.
Transgender swimmers were on Sunday banned from women’s elite races if they have gone through male puberty.
And World Athletics president Lord Coe hinted to the BBC that the sport could follow swimming’s example, saying it is set to discuss adopting a new eligibility policy and that “fairness is non-negotiable”.
The IRL said it had considered “relevant developments in world sport” in coming to its decision to ban transgender athletes until it had completed research on its final inclusion policy.
The ban will apply to the league’s World Cup to be held in England in October. The competition involves teams from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cook Islands, England, France, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
“It is the IRL’s responsibility to balance the individual’s right to participate – a long-standing principle of rugby league and at its heart from the day it was established – against perceived risk to other participants, and to ensure all are given a fair hearing, the organization said.
“The IRL will continue to work towards developing a set of criteria, based on the best possible evidence, which fairly balance the individual’s right to play with the safety of all participants,” its statement added.
However the decision has drawn criticism from transgender rights advocates. “Blanket bans on women who are trans playing against other women risks violating international human rights principles of non-discrimination, which require such policies to start from a place of inclusion,” said Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia.
“Fina (swimming’s world governing body) failed to meet that standard, and the Rugby League’s ban also fails to do so, despite it being temporary.”
A number of sports have been considering their inclusion policies in recent months, especially after the International Olympic Committee ruled earlier this year that participation policies governing transgender athletes should be determined by each sport – depending on its particular characteristics.
The IRL said it would work with the nations competing at the women’s Rugby League World Cup to obtain data to inform a transgender policy in 2023.
Critics of transgender athletes’ participation in some women’s sports argue they can have a disproportionate advantage to their peers based on their birth biology. However, the claim is strongly contested by many transgender athletes and their supporters.
Swimming’s recent move inflamed the controversy. Transgender rights groups slammed the decision, while US women’s football star Megan Rapinoe, one of the most influential voices in sport, said it was “disgusting”.
“Show me the evidence that trans women are taking everyone’s scholarships, are dominating in every sport, are winning every title. I’m sorry, it’s just not happening,” Rapinoe told Time magazine.
“I have confidence that we can figure it out. But we can’t start at the opposite. That is cruel. And frankly, it’s just disgusting. We’re putting everything through ‘God forbid a trans person be successful in sports.’ Get a grip on reality and take a step back.”