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American Samoa’s Jaiyah Saelua considers retirement from football

Jaiyah Saelua and Raynick Laeta
Source: Samoa Observer

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Jaiyah Saelua of American Samoa has always stood out 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.

In a feature article in the Samoa Observer, the 34-year-old says she is now considering hanging her boots up after having played the sport for many decades.

“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 told the Observer.

“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 an 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.

“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 honor 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.

“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.