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‘Safe and fair’: Isabella Macbeth on rejecting the rugby trans ban

Carolina Hurricanes rugby player Isabella Macbeth says she would not be allowed to play her sport if World Rugby’s blanket ban on trans women players trickles down to the local level.

Thankfully for her, USA Rugby has stood with most national governing bodies in rejecting World Rugby’s exclusionary policy.

Macbeth, who is also a nationally ranked oyster shucker, has played regularly for the Carolina Hurricanes for five years.

She loves training, playing, and being part of the team. 

She picked up the rugby bug while she was studying at university in Holland. 

Macbeth recalls a conversation she had at a dinner one evening with her South African accounting teacher.

Displaying the self-deprecating humour her teammates love her for, she engages her best South African accent to mimic her teacher: “She looked across the table at me and goes, ‘You know, you’d make a great hooker.’

“I was like, ‘What, do I need to drop out of school and wear fishnets?’”

Not long after, Macbeth began playing beach rugby and pick-up scrimmage games in the park, and it became a full-time sport for her a few years later, after her gender transition. 

By last year, the speedy outside centre helped the Carolina Hurricanes to a third-place finish. 

“With all my [supposed] trans advantage, my team should’ve finished as the number one team,” Macbeth jokes.

The former triathlete is obviously not for World Rugby’s international ban, but she acknowledges that guidelines need to be adhered to. 

“I think you should have rules and regulations, making sure sport is safe and fair like it should be,” she says. 

Macbeth says she approved of the old International Olympic Committee rules, and if they were “too strict now or not strict enough”, specific long-term research regarding trans women rugby players should be undertaken to get it right. 

“If rugby’s for everyone [but] we’re not allowed to play, are we then sub-human?” she says.

“Are we not a part of the human race? Or are you going to strip away my outlet, my community?”

Rugby is Macbeth’s local community and strengthens her resolve and mental health on a daily basis.

“Transition was always difficult,” she says.

“But in my rugby community, that’s a family that’s here… it fills in the family void that you’ve lost [through transitioning].” 

While Macbeth currently does not have to worry about her own right to play being stripped away, she feels World Rugby’s ban of trans women at the international level is not right.

The South Carolinian accused the governing body of introducing the ban out of “transphobia”, saying that it “really doesn’t make sense”. 

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