Courtesy of Gutu Faasau – Samoa Observer

Jaiyah Saelua of American Samoa has always stood out at regional competitions as she is the first transgender woman or fa’afafine to represent American Samoa at the national level.

She is part of the Ilaoa & To’omata football club of American Samoa which is currently attempting to qualify for the OFC Champions League. The 34-year-old is now considering hanging her boots after having played the sport for many decades.

Having first started playing at the age of 11 years, that was when the sport was first introduced to the private school he was attending.

“It was the first and the only competitive sport introduced at the school I was going to at the time where I was made captain of the team,” she said.

“We won the championship that year and I was made Most Valuable Player of the team.”

It was from here that Jaiyah discovered her love for football and has since then fully committed to the sport.

At the age of 14, Saelua was drafted into the senior national team before making his international debut at the age of 16 for the American Samoa national football team.

She said when she started her hormone treatment to transition to become a woman, it also affected her chances of playing in the 2015 World Cup qualifiers. Four years later she represented American Samoa at the 2019 Pacific Games.

Jaiyah wearing #5 jersey. Photo Credit: OFC Media

“For me it’s not so much who I am playing against or what team that I’m playing with. It’s about the love of the game,” said Jaiyah.

“Any opportunity I get to play and represent my country is the highest honour for me. I am still very comfortable playing with other men.”

Her story inspired a documentary which was released in 2014 and now a movie will be made by Kiwi director Taika Waititi with reports that actor Michael Fassbender will take the role of the American coach who trained the American Samoan team. The film will feature Kaimana, an actor who is also a fa’afafine, as Jaiyah.

Jaiyah said she was never discriminated against by his team members and they have always treated him with respect.

“When it comes to the pitch my teammates are always so respectful. The three generations of men who have come on to the team have treated me with respect because of the culture who have been accommodating people like me.”

Jaiyah got emotional thinking about the effect of age on her performance. The experience of playing over a 20 year period in this sport has caught up with him and a harsh reality check of what’s to come.

“I get sad when I think about the idea of not playing anymore but there are other opportunities in football where I can still be involved with the sport. It’s my first love and it’s scary to think of not being a player anymore.”

She also coaches and refs and become a FIFA ambassador for equality and LGBT athletes. She was also appointed to the jury of the FIFA Diversity Award.