'Football is too good a game to ruin with discrimination'

Thursday 01 May 2014
Jaiyah Saelua talks to FATV at Wembley Stadium

Jaiyah Saelua would be happy enough if the world saw her only as a footballer – but she accepts that she may have a bigger role to play.

As a centre-half for American Samoa’s men’s team, the 25-year-old tasted glory of sorts when her nation secured the south-sea island’s first ever victory – over Tonga in 2011.

Watch our exclusive interview with Jaiyah Saelua and Thomas Rongen


The win marked a remarkable turnaround for the side who held the record for the heaviest-ever defeat – 31-0 against Australia in 2001.

But more importantly she can lay claim to be the world’s first ever transgender international footballer – and a star of the excellent new film Next Goal Wins, to be released on Friday 9 May.

Saelua was born a man – named Johnny – but identifies herself as ‘third gender’, the Fa’afafine, a Samoan term that denotes a person of the male gender with feminine qualities.

She came to Wembley, with coach Thomas Rongen, to share with FATV her experience in the game and the lessons she has learned.

She said: “Football is such a beautiful sport and should be open to everyone. We love the sport so much that we leave discrimination off the pitch.

“People would say things to me to put me off my game but it only made me tougher. I am not a man or a woman – I am a soccer player.”

Watch our exclusive interview with Jaiyah Saelua and Thomas Rongen in the video player above

By James Callow Content manager