Trans darts player speaks out amid abuse over event win: ‘I am also a human being’

Noa-Lynn van Leuven playing darts

Transgender darts player Noa-Lynn van Leuven is facing abuse online after winning a professional women’s series event, beating the world number one along the way.

Having beaten Beau Graves in the quarter finals of the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) event, Dutch player Noa-Lynn van Leuven, 27, went on to triumph over Ireland’s Katie Sheldon in the final in Wigan on Saturday (23 March), to take home the £2,000 prize. 

Leuven’s 5-2 victory comes a week after she made history by becoming the first trans player to win a PDC tour event, on the Challenge Tour in Germany – an event open to both men and women. 

But her win has been followed by a torrent of transphobic abuse on social media, including misgendering Leuven and claiming she is “only” trans to win darts titles.

Tennis star Martina Navratilova, who has been a vocal opponent of trans inclusion in women’s sport, wrote: “No male bodies in women’s sports please, not even in darts. Again, women get the short end of the stick and it stinks.”

Leuven’s involvement in the Dutch women’s darts team has also prompted two of her compatriots, Anca Zijlstra and Aileen de Graaf, to quit the squad, citing disagreement with rules around trans inclusion. 

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De Graff said she encourages anyone who wants to transition to “change and be happy” but added: “I just don’t think it’s right for a biological man to throw for the women or vice-versa. It’s either mixed or not.” 

Zijlstra, meanwhile, wrote on Facebook: “That moment when you’re embarrassed to come out for the Dutch team, because a biological man is playing on the women’s team, it’s time to go. I have tried to accept this but I can’t approve or validate this.

“In sports, there should be an equal and fair playing field. I hope with all my heart and for all women in sports that people come to their senses.”

Van Leuven responded to the exits in a statement given to Dutch outlet NOS (via Express), saying: “I don’t really feel the need to go further into it. This has been their choice and not mine.

“I think the only unfortunate thing about this issue is that a lot of people forget that I am also a human being.”

The backlash comes amid increasing tensions about trans inclusion in sports, with a number of sporting bodies – including British Cycling and Swim England – taking steps to ban transgender athletes from competitions, and a number of US states legislating against young transgender members of teams. 

Leuven previously admitted to the Press Association that she “wouldn’t be here any more”, if she hadn’t transitioned.

“I didn’t have anything to live for, I wasn’t in a good space. Then I realised I am trans, [and that] I should do something with that or I am not going to make anything out of my life. I went to the doctor, then into the programme.”

She waited three of four years after transitioning to get back to playing darts, she said.

“I was playing darts for nine years and I was missing something in life, then I started playing again. I missed the game, I missed the people.”