Jaiyah Saelua

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Jaiyah Saelua
Jaiyah Saelua.jpg
Personal information
Full name Jaiyah T. Saelua
Date of birth (1988-07-19) July 19, 1988 (age 33)[1]
Place of birth Leone, American Samoa
Height 6 ft 2 in (188 cm)
Position(s) Defender (center back)
Club information
Current team
Ilaoa and To'omata
Number 3
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
Konica Machine
Savage FC
Lion Heart FC
Ilaoa and To'omata
National team
2004– American Samoa 15 (0)
* 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.[2][3] They are the first openly non-binary player to compete in a FIFA World Cup qualifier.[2][4]

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.[5][6][7][8]

Saelua is a former performing arts student who studied at the University of Hawaii.[4]

Early life[edit]

Saelua took up football at school as an 11-year-old.[2] 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.[2]

Club career[edit]

Saelua has played for former FFAS Senior League men's champions FC SKBC.[9][10] She now plays for and captains her village club Ilaoa and To'omata.[11][12][13]

International career[edit]

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.[2][14] 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.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21] 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.[2] 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.[22] 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.[2][23] 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.[24][25] The team followed up the win against Tonga with a 1-1 draw with the Cook Islands.[23] 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.[23]

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.[26] The film also documents the team's 2011 Pacific Games campaign.[23]

Although intending to continue playing for the national team, Saelua was left out of the squad for qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.[2][27] This was in part because they was undergoing their medical transition at the time.[28]

Saelua considered the possibility of playing for the American Samoa women's team after they had medically transitioned.[29]

Saelua was recalled to the men's national squad for the 2019 Pacific Games, joining veteran goalkeeper Nicky Salapu.[30] 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.[31][30] 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.[32] Saelua was also commended for their role in earning the team a 1-1 draw with Tuvalu.[33] They received a yellow card during the match.[34] This was the first game American Samoa had not lost at the tournament in 36 years.[35]

Managerial career[edit]

Saelua coached the American Samoan boys football team Leone Lions during the 2018-2019 Boys ASHSAA season.[36] 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.[36][37]

Style of play[edit]

Saelua insists on playing in full make-up whenever they takes to the football field.[38][39][40][41] They are known for their crunching tackles and is described as a defender who "takes no prisoners".[41][34]

Other football-related activities[edit]

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.[42][28] She was also appointed to the jury of the FIFA Diversity Award.[43]

Saelua has also trained as a referee, and has helped referee matches in her American Samoan homeland.[44][12]

Personal life[edit]

Saelua is a fa'afafine, a third gender present in Polynesian society.[2][3] Saelua began their gender transition before the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers in 2015.[28][43][35] She has continued to play football after her transition, including at the 2019 Pacific Games.[28]

In popular culture[edit]

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.[26][5] The re-make is expected to be released in late 2020.[5]

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.[45][5]

Saelua is mentioned in the book Thirty-One Nil: On the Road With Football's Outsiders.[46] They are also mentioned in the children's book Football School Star Players: 50 Inspiring Stories of True Football Heroes.[47]

Career statistics[edit]


Appearances and goals by national team and year
National team Year Apps Goals
American Samoa 2004 1 0
2007 3 0
2011 7 0
2019 4 0
Total 15 0


  1. ^ "Jaiyah Saelua FIFA profile". FIFA.com. Archived from the original on December 26, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Smith, Pete (2014-08-28). "Jaiyah Saelua: if I experience transphobia I just tackle harder". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  3. ^ a b Gabriel Faatau'uu-Satiu, Football's first fa’afafine: trans rights trailblazer Jaiyah Saelua on stardom and sisterhood, 31 July 2020, The Guardian
  4. ^ a b The Remarkable Story of American Samoa, BBC World Service, 23 December 2011
  5. ^ a b c d Ewart, Richard (13 January 2020). "Next Goal Wins - the Movie goes into post-production with a late 2020 release date anticipated". ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  6. ^ Cockerill, Michael (26 November 2011). "Finally making history for all the right reasons". Sydney Morning Herald.
  7. ^ "VIDEO: "Next Goal Wins" trailer details 'worst team in the world'". NBC Sports Radio. 2014-02-20. Retrieved 2014-02-28.
  8. ^ "Hollywood treatment for American Samoa". FIFA World. 13 March 2013. Archived from the original on May 3, 2014. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
  9. ^ a b "Saelua, Jaiyah". National Football Teams. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  10. ^ "SKBC (2013)". National Football Teams. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  11. ^ Vitolio, Brian (16 October 2018). "Tafuna Jets take away men's National Cup". Football Federation American Samoa. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  12. ^ a b Saelua, Jaiyah (26 August 2019). "Yesterday was the opening of the Football Federation American Samoa (FFAS) Senior National League. It was also my first day as an official FFAS Referee. I have to admit, it's quite difficult being on the officiating end of the match environment. The FFAS FIFA MA Refereeing Course helped a lot, so I'm extremely grateful for having been chosen to participate in the course. I was a 4th official for the 1st match of the day, an AR (Assistant Referee or Linesman) for the next 3 games, and ended the opening day playing a match with my village club, Ilaoa & To'omata, against Lion Heart Club (1-1 Draw)" (Post). Facebook. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Fiji vs. American Samoa 11-0". Soccerway. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  15. ^ "American Samoa vs. Samoa 0-7". Soccerway. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  16. ^ "American Samoa vs. Vanuatu 0-15". Soccerway. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  17. ^ "Tonga vs. American Samoa 4-0". Soccerway. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  18. ^ "American Samoa 0-4 Solomon Islands". oceaniafootball.com. 30 August 2011. Archived from the original on 8 September 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  19. ^ "American Samoa 0-2 Guam". oceaniafootball.com. 1 September 2011. Archived from the original on 8 September 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  20. ^ "New Caladonia 8-0 American Samoa". oceaniafootball.com. 3 September 2011. Archived from the original on 10 September 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  21. ^ "American Samoa 0-8 Vanuatu". oceaniafootball.com. 4 September 2011. Archived from the original on 10 September 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  22. ^ Montague, James (23 November 2011). "For American Samoa, a Win Ignites a World Cup Dream". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  23. ^ a b c d Brett, Mike; Brodie, Kristianson; Jamison, Steve (9 May 2014). Next Goal Wins. Icon Productions.
  24. ^ Unorthodox Football (8 May 2014). "Unorthodox football interviews- Jaiyah Saelua and Thomas Rongen of Next Goal Wins". YouTube. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  25. ^ Briggs, Simon (2 May 2014). "Next Goal Wins star Jaiyah Saelua is the transgender John Terry - and plays in the world's worst international team". The Telegraph. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  26. ^ a b Geoghagen, Kev (6 May 2014). "Next Goal Wins for 'world's worst football team'". BBC News. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  27. ^ Tifo Football. "FIFA World Cup 2018™: Story of Qualification Part 1". YouTube. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  28. ^ a b c d Bjerkevoll, Ola (10 July 2019). "INTERVIEW: American Samoa's Nicky Salapu and Jaiyah Saelua on their love of the game". Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  29. ^ "World's First Transgender Footballer I The Feed". YouTube. 12 June 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  30. ^ a b Vitolio, Brian (5 July 2019). "American Samoa men's National Team ready to play". Football Federation American Samoa. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  31. ^ Rockwood, Dan (11 April 2001). "Aussie Rules as Socceroos smash world record again". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  32. ^ "The Pacific Games Day 1: Raining, and raining goals". Football in Oceania. 8 July 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  33. ^ Vitolo, Brian (12 July 2019). "American Samoa draw with Tuvalu 1-1". Football Federation American Samoa. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  34. ^ a b "Pacific Games Day 3: Red cards and red mist!". Football in Oceania. 12 July 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  35. ^ a b "World's first transgender footballer proud to be 'home' for Pacific Games". Loop Pacific. 15 July 2019. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  36. ^ a b Vitolio, Brian (15 April 2019). "Leone Lions are repeat champions in Boys J-V soccer". Football Federation American Samoa. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  37. ^ Football Federation American Samoa (12 April 2019). "Jaiyah Saelua (2nd from left) receives the ASHSAA Boys J-V Coach of the Year Award after helping to guide the Leone Lions squad to the championship title for the 2018-2019 year" (Post). Facebook. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  38. ^ Parry, Tom (5 May 2014). "The transgender defender and new coach trying to turn the world's worst football team around". The Daily Mirror. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  39. ^ "LGBT Football". The FA. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  40. ^ Chacksfield, Marc (6 May 2014). "The World's First Transgender Footballer". ShortList. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  41. ^ a b Channel 4 News (6 May 2014). "Meet the world's first international transgender footballer". YouTube. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  42. ^ Ewart, Richard (25 July 2019). "Love of soccer drives transgender player Jaiyah to delay her transition". ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  43. ^ a b OFCMedia (2 March 2018). "Saelua's homecoming". Oceania Football Confederation. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  44. ^ Vitolio, Brian (9 August 2019). "FFAS FIFA-MA Referee Course Ends". Football Federation American Samoa. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  45. ^ Call, Ryan (14 November 2019). "Taika Waititi Casts Kaimana in His Upcoming "Next Goal Wins" Adaptation". Bleeding Cool. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  46. ^ Montague, James (21 May 2015). Thirty-One Nil: On the Road With Football's Outsiders (Uk ed.). UK: Bloomsbury Sport. ISBN 978-1408851630.
  47. ^ Bellos, Alex; Lyttleton, Ben (2 May 2019). Football School Star Players: 50 Inspiring Stories of True Football Heroes. Walker Books. ISBN 978-1406386417.