|Full name||Jaiyah T. Saelua|
|Date of birth||July 19, 1988|
|Place of birth||Leone, American Samoa|
|Height||6 ft 2 in (188 cm)|
|Position(s)||Defender (center back)|
|Ilaoa and To'omata|
|Lion Heart FC|
|Ilaoa and To'omata|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only|
Jaiyah Saelua (born John Saelua) is an American Samoan international football player. They are a member of the American Samoa national football team (a men's team). Saelua is a fa'afafine, a third gender present in Polynesian society. They are the first openly non-binary player to compete in a FIFA World Cup qualifier.
Saelua is featured in the 2014 documentary Next Goal Wins. A feature film version of Next Goal Wins is planned. The film will feature Kaimana, an actor who is also a fa'afafine, as Saelua, and will be directed by Taika Waititi.
Saelua took up football at school as an 11-year-old. Their first coach was Nicky Salapu, the man famous for being the goalkeeper during American Samoa's world-record 31-0 defeat to Australia in 2001.
Saelua made their debut for the American Samoa national team as a raw 15-year-old during qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, appearing as a first-half substitute in an 11-0 defeat to Fiji. They then made a further 3 substitute appearances in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, as well as 4 substitute appearances at the 2011 Pacific Games. With the arrival of coach Thomas Rongen in 2011, Saelua was given extended game time, and they made their first start for the team and achieved their first-ever international win against Tonga during qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. Until this point, American Samoa had been outscored 229-12 in all the international matches it had played, and were joint-last in the FIFA World Rankings. Saelua provided an assist and made a last-minute goalline clearance to help their team to the narrow 2-1 win, and they were declared woman of the match by their coach. They were later sent a letter by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, recognising their achievements as the first openly transgender footballer to appear in a World Cup qualifying match. The team followed up the win against Tonga with a 1-1 draw with the Cook Islands. Needing only a win in team's last game against bitter rivals Samoa to progress to the next stage of qualification, the team fell agonisingly short, hitting the post in the dying minutes before a last-gasp Samoa goal eliminated the rival from the tournament.
American Samoa's efforts to qualify for the 2014 World Cup are chronicled in the 2014 British Documentary Film Next Goal Wins, in which Saelua plays an integral part. The film also documents the team's 2011 Pacific Games campaign.
Although intending to continue playing for the national team, Saelua was left out of the squad for qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. This was in part because they was undergoing their medical transition at the time.
Saelua was recalled to the men's national squad for the 2019 Pacific Games, joining veteran goalkeeper Nicky Salapu. The team was managed by returning coach Tunoa Lui, who had previously presided over American Samoa's world-record 31-0 loss to Australia in 2001. In team's first match, the team were praised for performing better than expected in a 5-0 loss to one of the pre-tournament favourites New Caledonia, and Saelua was praised for their defensive performance. Saelua was also commended for their role in earning the team a 1-1 draw with Tuvalu. They received a yellow card during the match. This was the first game American Samoa had not lost at the tournament in 36 years.
Saelua coached the American Samoan boys football team Leone Lions during the 2018-2019 Boys ASHSAA season. They led the team to the 2018-2019 ASHSAA Boys J-V title, for which she received the "Coach of the Year Award" from the FFAS.
Style of play
Saelua insists on playing in full make-up whenever they takes to the football field. They are known for their crunching tackles and is described as a defender who "takes no prisoners".
Since becoming the first non-binary player to play in a FIFA-sanctioned tournament, Saelua has become a FIFA ambassador for equality and LGBT athletes. She was also appointed to the jury of the FIFA Diversity Award.
Saelua is a fa'afafine, a third gender present in Polynesian society. Saelua began their gender transition before the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers in 2015. She has continued to play football after her transition, including at the 2019 Pacific Games.
In popular culture
Saelua is featured in two films: firstly in the highly-rated 2014 British documentary film Next Goal Wins, which documents their American Samoan football team's attempts to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and first international win, and secondly in the upcoming Hollywood comedy-drama re-make of Next Goal Wins directed by Taika Waititi. The re-make is expected to be released in late 2020.
Waititi considered casting Saelua in his adaptation of the 2014 documentary Next Goal Wins, which they had previously starred in, but he ultimately choose fellow Samoan fa'afafine Kaimana to play the role.
Saelua is mentioned in the book Thirty-One Nil: On the Road With Football's Outsiders. They are also mentioned in the children's book Football School Star Players: 50 Inspiring Stories of True Football Heroes.
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- Saelua, Jaiyah (1 September 2019). "The football club that I play for is called "Ilaoa & To'omata" from the village of Leone — the village I'm from. Today, we played Utulei Youth, the number 2 team in the league. Although we lost the match, it was my first time scoring a goal in an FFAS senior national tournament. By the end of the match, I had scored 3 goals! I don't usually play up front, but I felt the need to, considering we were down by so many goals. Sometimes, as the captain, you have to read the game & make decisions based on what's best for your team. If there's one positive thing that came out of my team's performance today & the result of the match, it's that it helped me realize what we need to work on. Final score: Utulei Youth - 9 Ilaoa & To'omata - 3" (Post). Facebook. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
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