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Jean Kim: Pushing Rugby into the 21st Century



Fordham University


Jean Kim: Pushing Rugby into the 21st Century

An athlete's notable advocacy

Emily Geritz


Photography by Spencer Krell

Rugby is a game full of grit and determination. It is mentally and physically challenging, requiring players to reach new athletic heights with every game. In addition to being one of the world’s fastest growing sports, rugby is currently in the spotlight for having the potential to set new standards for the athletic community. World Rugby, the governing body of the sport of rugby union, is in a position to be the first organization to change regulations regarding transgender athletes.

In 2015, the International Olympic Committee ruled that transgender athletes could participate in the Olympics without undergoing sexual reassignment surgery. Now, female-to-male transgender athletes are able to take part in men’s competitions without restriction, while male-to-female athletes are able once they demonstrate their testosterone has been below a certain level for at least a year. These regulations were created by the IOC to serve as guidelines for other international athletic organizations. Unfortunately, such organizations have yet to catch up to the modern age.

World Rugby's current policy dictates transgender athletes must have surgery to participate, but this year World Rugby could adopt the IOC's regulations. Fordham University's own Jean Kim is doing everything in her power to ensure these rules will change.

At the beginning of her transition, Jean suffered a variety of mental health complications. She thought that she would go through life alone. Then she started played rugby. The sport quickly helped Jean break this mindset and find a family on campus. Jean fell in love with rugby, trying her hardest at every opportunity and occasionally practicing up to 6 hours a day.

Women’s rugby captain Liv Korth says, “Jean is one of the most dedicated rugby players I have ever met. Her commitment not only to the team, but to the sport, inspires me to work harder at practice and keep working towards accomplishing my own goals.”

Rugby brought joy to Jean’s life, but because of World Rugby’s outdated policy, it is now causing heartbreak. Jean has never been able to officially play a game for the women’s Fordham team.

“It’s hard to feel like part of a family in a sport when you are never allowed to play” Jean said.

If the policy is not approved, Jean will not get to step out on the field as a member of the women’s rugby team. But if the policy does pass, Jean could play come February. “Rugby has become a love-hate thing, but it has saved my life.”

Jean believes that “if World Rugby adopts this, every other sports organization will be much more willing to change their regulations because rugby is one of the most contact-heavy sports. If trans players could exist in that realm, it would make waves in the sports industry.” Jean states that the current policy is dehumanizing and sends the message “if you don’t undergo surgery, you are not a trans-person.” There could be many reasons why an individual would not want to undergo surgery and it is unfair for an organization to force these rules upon an athlete when the decision is none of their business.

Jean is hard at work to change World Rugby’s regulations for members of the rugby community. Jean is currently working with Athlete Ally, a major non-profit that works with LGBTQ athletes, as a campaign figurehead. Jean’s work with the organization includes a signature campaign that involved gathering signatures from 450 rugby players in support of World Rugby adopting the new policy. In addition, Jean is working on an upcoming social media campaign that consists of tweeting pictures of various rugby teams from colleges like University of Delaware and University of Rochester with signs that state “Women’s Rugby Stands with Transgender Rugby Players.” Jean asks that members of the Fordham community join the social media campaign to show support for the policy change.

Korth adds that “Jean makes [the team] work harder to be more inclusive, accepting, and loving towards each other. I speak for the Fordham University Women’s Rugby team when I say that we stand behind Jean, and all other transgender athletes, throughout their struggles and triumphs. Jean’s fight for equality as a trans athlete does not go unnoticed by her teammates or the rugby community. We are inspired by her devotion to the sport that she truly loves and to the team name she wears on her jersey. Jean embodies the spirit of Rugby with her tenacity, strength, and resilience in the face of adversity.”

Jean’s activism also includes creating a non-profit for transgender athletes and an interview by BBC. Jean’s passion for the sport of rugby is infectious and her determination to alter the rules for future generations is shown every time she uses her voice to promote equality in the industry. Rugby already has a reputation for being an extremely inclusive sport. For example, World Rugby works alongside a non-profit called International Gay Rugby to eliminate homophobia. In addition, the rules for men and women’s rugby are almost the exact same. The fact that rugby is progressive shows that the sport has the ability to constantly adapt. If World Rugby were to adopt the IOC’s regulations, it would set a precedent that others may soon follow.

We at The Rival at Fordham University support Jean and all other transgender athletes in their fight to promote equality in the athletic sphere.