Writing in the University Times, River Cooke tries to argue that “women’s rugby must include all women”, and, in particular, men who want to masquerade as women. 

Rivers sees the exclusion of such men from women’s sports as unfair because, as he explains, “we presently have no issue with allowing a six foot woman weighing 133kg to play full contact rugby against a five foot woman weighing 50kg”, “the bulk of the arguments against transgender women’s full and equal inclusion in sport have been based on assumptions, suppositions, and counterfactuals. 

They are not worried about safety”; that this decision of “ transphobes [who] clutch their pearls” “which currently only applies to two registered players and allows for no exception or individual judgement, is based on safety when so many other safety issues are being ignored, such as the continued use of harmful practice drills which many surgeons have flagged as a frequent source of career ending injuries.” 

Rivers is also concerned with the prospect of “the average rugby dad moonlighting as a coach requesting a peek at someone they don’t like the look of to get an unfair advantage.”

Rivers believes “the RFU’s decision was made by a board consisting mostly of men that overruled the will of the various women’s clubs and their players who had explicitly trans inclusive policies and were competently managing any safeguarding issues. 

In the end, women’s voices have been silenced and their competence denied, because in the eyes of these governing bodies they simply knew better what was safe in women’s sport than the women themselves”.

After noting the article’s postscript saying that, if the transphobia the article warbles on about terrifies us, we should contact the Welfare Officer of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union, the Student Counselling Service, the Samaritans and Niteline, the student listening service, let’s discuss what passes for Rivers’ arguments.

First off, although Rivers is correct to say a bigger female rugby player has an advantage over a smaller female rugby player, that is because, in most field sports, a bigger good player is always better than a smaller, good player. 

That said, most field games, rugby included, make allowances for such discrepancies and Tony Ward, who was an outstanding fly-half, is evidence, if such was needed, of that. Secondly, as all major field sports are looking at ways to make their drills and games safer for all participants, Cooke’s whataboutery is one of many straw men the article employs to make the case for middle aged men to get down and dirty with the girls. 

As regards rugby dads, presumably Ireland’s equivalent of America’s soccer moms in Cooke’s book, looking for unfair advantages, there are certain vetting procedures all clubs must follow with the Gardai, to whom Cooke’s concerns, if they have validity, should be addressed.

If we leave aside Cooke’s crude, sexist, offensive and decidedly odd remarks about so-called TERFS clutching their pearls, Cooke’s claims that the IRFU’s TERF policies only affects two individuals, one of whom was presumably the middle aged bald Italian bloke who switched to Gaelic games so he could still get down and dirty with the girls.

But, as the IRFU is a broad church, surely those two excluded ones should just take one for Team TERF and find something else to do; it is not as if that Italian bloke does not have more exotic interests to occupy his mind. 

They could, for example, get into non contact sports like athletics, where Chelsea Mitchell, “the fastest girl in Connecticut”, is one of legions of female American athletes complaining that she must compete against and lose sporting scholarships to dudes who declare themselves to be women.

And, though Cooke and the University Times might argue that Chelsea Mitchell , being a woman, is privileged whereas they, who aspire to be women, are not, there is the simple issue that women and girls want to be empowered to do things between themselves at their pace, in their own safe spaces and with minimal male interference, just as children want to do things without adults butting in, or dogs want to sniff each other’s backsides without LGBT+ activists with dog fetishes sticking their noses in where they clearly do not belong. Cooke’s claim that the IRFU did not consult Ireland’s rugby playing women and girls is so stupid it deserves only derision. 

No matter how liberal the parents of those rugby playing women and girls might be, having a follicularly challenged middle aged man prowling the dressing rooms of their daughters would soon change all that.

The University Times has really dropped the ball with this article, which came with all of the trigger warnings adumbrated above, whereas equally contentious articles on climate change and student societies did not. 

The University Times should strive for inclusivity and diversity, for safe spaces for Trinity’s Chelsea Mitchells and Trinity’s other young women who want to shower in peace without balding, middle aged dudes spying on them and publications like the University Times praising such voyeurism as progressive and the fun and hip thing to do.

Posted by Dr Declan Hayes

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