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  • Sasha Acheson

Sasha Acheson's Open Letter to the RFU

Bill Sweeney, Tom Ilube & Nigel Gillingham

C/O Rugby House,

Twickenham Stadium,

Rugby Football Union,

200 Whitton Road,



Emailed for expediency – An open letter

27th January 2023

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you as Red Rose number 191, former England Womens Rugby Player, who represented you in some way, shape or form, since 2004 to this present day, regarding the recent ban on Trans Womens participation in Womens Rugby.

To introduce myself, I was selected for the RFU pathway and Talent Development Group from the age of 13, in 2004. I was then Selected for England U20s at 17 years old, in 2008, and again for England Women in 2013 at the age of 22, up until finally retiring at 29, in 2019, my last game being for the Barbarians at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. I now coach a 73 player strong team in Bristol; The Bristol Bisons.

I have dedicated my life to rugby, its growth and the womens game. I care deeply about its success, and am so proud to see the attention and development of the womens game is reaching record breaking levels, with the game growing faster than any other sport on the planet.

I originally started my playing career in Suffolk, where there was not a great rugby presence, and where we wore mens shirts, and we paid to play rugby, and experienced cancelled matches regularly, due to low playing numbers. My father and I identified this problem, with their being pockets of females with a desire and talent to play this amazing sport, and created a hybrid team, called the Suffolk Sabres, and drove all over the county, in a rented bus, to collect players so we could drive across boarders to have a game. We also did not have a ‘county’ team that mirrored the mens in those days, so we re-ignited Eastern Counties for us, as women. A county programme which has continued and is still running to this day. When injured, playing rugby for University, which saw me miss playing in the 2014 World Cup in Paris, I became the Manager for Bristol Ladies, and was a firm part in creating the bid and sourcing many requirements to ensure its success in being accepted when we had to ‘pitch’ to be a part of the Premiership. Now, Bristol Bears, is still part of the Premiership and continues to thrive. I also, when injured, created an athlete development programme, called Breaking Boundaries, with the support of the Princes Trust, to provide development for U18s and U15s women with aspirations of playing for their country; providing them with nutritional advice, strength and conditioning specific to them, as women, and an opportunity to meet and be coached by current international athletes and premiership rugby players. Many of the players who attended these camps are now playing in the Premiership, for England U20s, and or England Women.

As you can see, I care deeply for the success of womens sport, namely womens rugby. Rugby has saved the lives of many people I know on many an occasion, including me. Whether it be through its values being instilled in us as young players, or providing a welcoming community and safe space to accept our bodies, and us as individuals, teaching us our limits and how to reach new personal bests, or overcoming adversity and how ‘baby steps’ can take you many miles. Rugby is a sport that has quite literally changed the world – it famously has brought together nations driven apart by oppression. I think fondly of the difference rugby made to South Africa during the time of Apartheid.

This trans ban is oppressive. It is creating segregation which has been driven not for the concerns or success of womens sport, but for the hate of an already vulnerable community. There is trans hysteria sweeping the United Kingdom, and it is infiltrating sport, using womens sport as its vehicle. This has to stop.

Rugby is known to be one of the most inclusive sports on the planet. It is a sport that caters for ‘all shapes and sizes’, and celebrates strength, power, speed, agility, skill, size and is the embodiment of values which we should all live by, respect for yourself and respect for others. It is a sport with finite rules, and time constraints, but has an infinite effect on those who are a part of it in some way, shape or form.

This trans ban was brought in based on ‘Scientific Evidence’. However it has been made clear, through a peer reviewed study of how the trans ban has been put in place, that it was driven by persons who have ulterior motives and bias. Regardless of their personal views, which have no place in sport, or the world, the evidence they produced was not based on science, although it might have seemed as such.

The scientist, Ross Tucker, who has been pivotal in ensuring the ban of trans athletes in many sports, is a key personality in the ruling of the Trans Ban, as well as the implementation of the new tackle height laws coming in this year, but that is another matter. To quote a study by Richard Pringle, and Erik Denison, from the Faculty of Education at Monash University (Examining World Rugby’s Transgender ban and the perspectives of cisgender women who play rugby in England, Canada and Australia) “Tucker has been particularity concerned about transwomen participating in rugby, which he described in 2019 as a ‘huge welfare issue’ for cisgender women who needed ‘protection’”(Tucker, 2019, p.8). In a detailed, 7000+ word, personal blog, outlining the case for the ban, Tucker (2019) repeatedly described the work of researchers with a different perspective to him, who were primarily women, as ‘weak’, ‘foolish’, ‘stupid’, ‘intellectually lazy’, and ‘dishonest’ (pgs 7- 18). Tucker said that instead of trying to find ways to include Trans players in Rugby, it would be ‘simpler’ (p.8) to ban trans women and girls on safety grounds, and that it would be legal to discriminate against them if there was ‘reasonable’ (p.8) evidence they may pose a safety risk to others. He closed his blog with a request asking for donations to support his work.

Ross has also campaigned avidly for intersex people not to be included in womens sport, and has stated on many occasion that Caster Semenya should not be in womens sports, as well as describing in detail what a woman’s vagina should look like.

Also giving presentations to World Rugby under bias and the guise of ‘science’, were Nicola Williams and Emma Hinton, both known affiliates to ‘Fair Play for Women’, which is widely known as a transphobic hate group (ref: Quoting a tweet by ‘fair play for women’: “Trans exterminators.” Are they employed by the local authority? Good to know there’s someone to call if my loft gets infested by trans” (I have attached this in the appendix)– This is one example of many that this group supports, and we have taken their advice, their what was supposed to be unbiased evidence, to make a life altering decision. Of course the evidence was to be misleading and catastrophised; even at the consultation, they were warned that the language they were using was not appropriate and if it carried on, they would be asked to leave, yet their ‘science’ was admitted into supporting evidence of the ban, again being cis gender vs cis gender, which is not relevant in this discussion, and certainly not unbiased.

Allowing Ross Tucker, Emma Hinton, Nicola Williams and the chair of the transgender working group to World Rugby, Araba Chintoh, who stated she was “not interested in the data that the USA, Canada and Australia could provide on trans participation in rugby”, for a policy specifically needing data to disprove or approve a ban in World Rugby, as well as she, as the chair, never having done any research herself in any field, as the influencers for segregating an entire community surely is discrimination and is a failing of a duty of care of the governing bodies, and it is against rugbys core values.

It also has become evident, that when this decision was made by World Rugby, that the claims were not the reality. It was claimed that there would be the following:

  • An extensive consultation

  • Transparent Process

  • Reviewed best available evidence

  • Robust Evidence of Risk

  • Conduct ongoing research

The reality is as follows, as described at the Bingham Cup, under a peer reviewed investigation, supported by Rugby Victoria and Harlequins, completed by Richard Pringle and Erik Denison:

  • Minimal consultation

  • No transparency

  • No safety data from rugby

  • No evidence exists

  • No research has ever been funded (to the point of decision making).

  • No stakeholder engagement map

  • No consultation map

The key findings of that investigation named above, were as follows:

  • The policy change was driven by one person at World Rugby

  • There was no consultation with those directly impacted: Women

  • The existing safety data was not analysed.

It was also stated that there would be a consultation with how this would effect trans players themselves. Only one trans rugby player attendance, Verity Smith, and he was told he could not comment, he could only observe. This was equally the same for the IGR representatives, and Sport England – they were only told they could observe, they could not provide comment or input. This is particularly troubling when it was part of the Memorandum of Understanding with World Rugby and the IGR, that they would improve the playing conditions and access to LGBTQ+ players, yet the IGRs 200+ page counter proposal to the ban, was not considered or reviewed, and the IGR were only in attendance to witness the banning of an entire community.

Sir Bill Beaumont released a statement at the time of consideration of this ban in World Rugby, stating that ‘it would take time’. A detailed document, of over 7000 words, by Ross Tucker, effectively taken from his personal blog, is what was provided, and the time period given was only one month. This is not sufficient to make a life altering decision for participation in sport. Worse still, there was no feedback mechanism available as part of that ability to respond.

There has also, since this decision has been made by World Rugby, an additional review come out, made public in cycling, that has stated ‘There is currently no substantial evidence of any biological advantages for trans women competing in womens sport. The performance advantages from social factors, training and access to equipment are far greater than testosterone’.

Having spoken to all four of the persons that this ban in womens rugby directly effects, I discussed the process of being allowed to play womens rugby, and also what happens in order to transition, to better understand this on a human, rugby playing, level.

  • Pre this ban, the requirements as I understand them, on your case by case basis, were as follows:

  • You had to have fully medically transitioned

  • You had to medically prove you were fully transitioned (more on this below)

  • You had to still be on HRT (hormone replacement therapy)

  • You had to prove that you had testosterone levels below 5nmol/L and keep them below those levels for the duration of time playing in the womens league.

  • You were required to submit an affidavit stating that you were a woman and that you would remain so

  • You had to send every form of identification in, including medical records

  • All of this had to be sent as an entire case to the legal and governance department in the RFU for scrutiny

  • Then, once previous stages had been passed, appear in front of a panel consisting of: The RFU head of regulation & integrity, the RFU player welfare manager and an independent medical professional appointed by the RFU. The panel can also ask for further information, as well as seek further investigations and other expert opinions.

  • The player then, will or will not be granted permission to play once this investigation and assessment takes place.

  • The player will then be subject to regular testing and assessments to gauge suitability.

  • A player can also have permission to play in the sport withdrawn.

There was also other restrictions such as height and weight in place, which trans women must adhere to. Also, trans women were only permitted to play in the community game. This is what a trans women goes through to transition in the first place (as described by one of the trans women who is now banned from playing womens rugby):

  • First, a psychological assessment is done, as well as counselling. “ironing out” and getting to the “crux” of the issue.

  • A formal diagnosis is given. If on the NHS, the waiting list is at 3 years minimum for access to Mental Health services. If privately sourced, the waiting list is at 6 months minimum.

  • Then given a prescription for Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), this, for a trans woman, is Progynova. (If you have wives, daughters, or know of anyone who has had to take this for IVF or menopause, they will tell you it can make you feel incredibly sick, highly emotional, upset stomach, headaches, tenderness and pain. It can also make you feel very giggly, at ease and a mixture of the above. It also shows changes in skin, breasts start to grow and mood changes). Trans women take this x3 per day.

  • After months, or sometimes years, of taking this drug, a period of adjustment is required. Your body now is not recognisable as it once was. It moves differently, fat distributes in different places, your strength and biomechanical functions changed, and you also need to, by this stage if you have not already, go through the mental space of “coming out” as, if you are “in the closet”, your body is now outing you quite obviously.

  • Whilst going through all of the above, you are continuing having medical examinations and blood tests to check you are okay and everything is in the “right ranges”.

  • Hair removal is another factor. This trans woman has had to have in excess of 40 IPL and laser hair removal surgeries, as well as 20 hours of electrolysis on her face. This differs from person to person, but is painful none the less.

  • Whilst the body goes through this, strength fades, fitness drops off, weight gain, water retention, heavy mental load between various points, as well as adjusting to side effects of medication, adjusting medication to negate the side effects etc.

  • Another drug will be issued at this stage. An anti-androgen. Namely, in this case, it was ‘Decapeptyl’, which is an injected drug used to suppress testosterone, and is also used in prostate cancer patients, and can make you feel unwell for some time. Side effects of this drug are: Back pain, hot flushes and sweats, tiredness, insomnia, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, osteoporosis, feeling and being sick, weight game loss of muscle strength and mass, depression, muscle and joint pain, increased risk of bone fracture due to thinning of bones, fluid build up, dry mouth, blood pressure changes, heart function (the list goes on).

  • Surgical transition (different from medical transition, which were all the stages above, the requirement pre-ban). Surgical transition requires signoffs to say that these surgeries can be had, whilst also a need to accept the risks posed with having these surgeries (tissue death, nerve injury, haematoma, blood clots, infection etc). An appropriate gap must be had between ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ surgery, which can consist of months and or years. The wait for this surgery under the NHS in the UK is years.

  • All of the cocktails of drugs must be continued throughout, with more given throughout this transition period.

  • Recovery from surgery can take a minimum of 8 weeks to return to work, a desk job, let alone sports. Intensive physiotherapy is required, as well as learning how to move again.

As you can see, going through transition, whether medically or surgically is no mean feat, and is not done ‘on a whim’. This rugby player in particular, had a testosterone level of 0 nmol/L. She also had to take supplements to support her bone health, as she was at risk of osteoporosis. She was a loved member of her womens team, and posed no threat, as you established when she went through this application process to play in the first place.

This policy has and ban has been created on biased circumstances, where the transparency of changing the game to exclude a population of 4 players has not existed. It just happened. We have all been gaslit under the guise of science, as there is no scientific study that was brought to the table which studies the advantages or disadvantages of trans women vs cis women in the first place. The study that has been cited, which is not of any relevance, is of a cis man vs a cis woman. The further studies that have been used have been undertaken on professional Cis-gender players, so is not a representation of grassroots players, as the sample population has innately different lifestyles and training habits etc.

If you need a cis woman to be the ‘guinea pig’ to focus your studies on against a trans woman, I happily volunteer as a healthy 31 year old former athlete, however for the study to work I do suggest getting a trans woman from the community game and a equally sized cis woman, who has similar training age, training habits, size etc to make the comparator fair; if that is me as a cis woman, then I am happy to volunteer.

I know that, when considering this ban being implemented, the vote that took place was one of high emotions, and acting on the evidence that was brought forward to you. I know that 26 people voted against the ban being implemented, with 33 people voting for it being implemented, and 2 people abstaining. I know that there were many tears that day by those involved, and it was an incredibly emotional experience for all those on the board. I know 33 of you felt you did the right thing by implementing this ban – but the evidence you were given was not from a source that can be credible to make these decisions from – it was from a source who believes in banning trans participation, not just in rugby, but a multitude of sports, without having done a scientific study that reflects post transition trans athletes against cis women. It was from a source who turned down two top studies and universities in this area that might prove him wrong. It was from a source that described women who spoke against him, scientifically, as ‘weak’, ‘foolish’, ‘stupid’, ‘intellectually lazy’, and ‘dishonest’, and had a personal blog which reiterated that of trans participation. It is not a reliable source.

I care deeply for womens sport. I have dedicated my life to this sport. Trans women belong in womens rugby. They have played for decades and there has been no injuries as a result of their participation. Having an inclusive sport only enriches the lives of those within it – it reflects the communities we have in this country, as it should.

The RFU is one of the richest unions in the world, and with implementing this ban, a domino effect occurred. This can be un-done. There are many unions throughout the world who oppose this ban and are now viewing the RFU and England as an oppressive nation, seeking to segregate a community for a political agenda. I know this was not the intent of those of you who voted, but it is the effect.

In the 1940s, there were conversations held about banning black people from playing rugby, due to the ‘biological differences’ (for example, bone density is greater). In the 1990s, the RFU discussed a ‘soft ban’ on gay men, at a time that gay hysteria was sweeping the nation, under the guise of ‘safeguarding’. In the very early stages of my playing life, it was described that if I was to be hit in the chest, my chances of breast cancer would increase, and also a womens skull could not tolerate contact sports. These were all scientifically ‘backed up’ statements in those times. Those concepts seem inconceivable and painful to even read or know was fact, but they were.

The RFU has recently put out a statement stating that they have been ‘misled’ by the data and science provided, with regards to this tackle height law being imposed. It is the same Scientist that has advised you on this, that has lead the conquest for the removal of trans athletes from womens sports also. The science being misleading does not begin and end with tackle height, it starts with this trans ban, and any advice for this trans ban should be struck out on the basis of bias, misogyny and under ethics of sport, the values of rugby, as well as all further scientific advice too. This is a conversation that needs to go back to the community that it directly effects.

I am a woman, and I was once a role model for this sport, and as such I cannot ignore that my eyes have been opened to just how segregated this world is becoming which is something I emphatically oppose. This ban does effect us all, as women. It only harms women. It seeks for a definition of ‘what is a woman’, it creates scrutiny if a strong, muscular women excels ‘are they trans’, it creates more segregation between the ideals of having to look or behave a certain way. It tries to neatly put in a box something which isn’t binary and cannot be put in a box. It creates a world of exclusion, rather than inclusion. A world of oppression, rather than freedom.

I have been accused of pulling the ladder up from behind me, having now retired, but it is not me who is setting fires to pathways into sport. I hope collaboratively we can build a staircase, with inclusion at its heart, and a richer world for womens sport, where all women can thrive and gain the same enjoyments, values, and friendships that I have been lucky enough to experience as an athlete representing this union.

I am asking you, with this new information now brought to light, to call an emergency meeting with your council members, to bring this to discussion, and hopefully overturn this ban, reinstating your previous inclusion framework, work with IGR rugby to future proof this inclusion, for the good of womens rugby, this sport, and its community.

I truly believe in Rugby for All.

Best wishes,

Sasha Acheson Former England Womens Rugby Player – Red Rose #191

N/B the information cited in this letter can be found here:

  • - Richard Pringle, and Erik Denison: Faculty of Education at Monash University (Data - Understanding the experiences of women and girls who play rugby union)

  • - Richard Pringle, and Erik Denison: Faculty of Education at Monash University (Examining World Rugby’s Transgender ban and the perspectives of cisgender women who play rugby in England, Canada and Australia)

  •– Video footage recorded at the Bingham Cup, understanding the Trans Ban in World Rugby, as described by the papers of Richard Pringle and Erik Denison

  • under-current-rules-study-finds - Press release of new study showing trans women have no biological unfair advantage

  • - Stephs Place, recognised charity, detailing ‘Fair Play for Women’

Appendix: Fair Play for Women – Examples of Transphobia – (Sourced from their own Twitter @fairplayforwomen)

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