Pathbreaking trans woman in French rugby says time for other sports to follow

PARIS (Reuters) - The first trans woman playing at the top level of amateur rugby with the endorsement of her national federation said on Thursday it was time for other countries and other sports to follow French rugby and let trans women play.

The French Rugby Federation defied the recommendation of the sport’s global governing body this week by decreeing that trans women should be allowed to compete. For Alexia Cerenys, who has already been playing unofficially as a flanker for the Lons Women’s Rugby team in the French Pyrenees for years, it was about time.

“From a personal point of view, I feel really proud to have this support and to see things change,” she told Reuters. “In this sense, I hope to see doors open for other federations to open up competition to trans people in all other sports.”

World Rugby has discouraged countries from letting trans women play, calling it a safety issue, because women who were born as men might have bigger bodies and hit harder.

Cerenys called such concern “unjustified”. She herself was initially worried that her body type might be an issue, but discovered it was not a problem in such a diverse sport.

“I was apprehensive about the changing room, how people will look at my body... And it was really for nothing,” she said. “Rugby itself is a sport where there is a huge range of different physiques.”

“In our team, I have a team mate more burly than myself, so (the safety concern) it’s not justified, it’s totally not justified. In fact, the hormonal treatment balances it out.”

Cerenys, now 35, quit rugby when she transitioned a decade ago. But she found herself missing the sport which she loved, and realised she wanted it to be part of her identity. She resumed playing in 2016 after four years of hormone therapy, which she says reduced her physical strength.

Serge Simon, vice president of the French Rugby Federation, said there was simply no good reason to take the sport away from people who have proven their love for it by fighting for the right to play.

“When you have someone telling you, ‘rugby is my passion’, who already has had a very long and painful path, one has to have a lot of conviction and strength to take on all these changes, who has a passion for rugby, and she’s telling you, ‘you’re taking away the joy in my life’... So you weigh the question and you realise that, actually there is no reason.”

Reporting by Yiming Woo; Writing by Peter Graff, Editing by William Maclean