Jaiyah Saelua is a trailblazing footballer from American Samoa who has made history as the first openly non-binary and trans woman to play in a FIFA World Cup qualifier and now in the OFC Champions League. Born in the US territory of American Samoa, Saelua identifies as a fa’afafine, a third gender that is widely accepted in Polynesian cultures.
In 2011, Saelua made headlines when she played in the FIFA World Cup qualifier for American Samoa, becoming the first openly transgender player to participate in a men’s international football match. She went on to represent the team in 15 matches, cementing her place as a key player in the squad.
In 2023, Saelua made history once again by playing in her first ever OFC Champions League match for her team, Ilaoa & To’omata, the FFAS National League Men’s Competition 2022 Champions in the country. As a center-back, Saelua played a crucial role in her team’s performance, showcasing her skills and determination on the pitch. “The Leone Whites were the undefeated champions of the 2022 FFAS National League! In the almost 25 years that I’ve played football, this will be my first time at this tournament“, said Saelua before the starting match of the tournament in a social media post.
The defender made history in the OFC Champions League in her team’s defeat to Samoan champions Lupe o le Soaga in the opening match of the OFC Champions League qualifying stage: “Extremely tough game today with such a horrible result, but with such a young team, we can’t expect anything except for them to do their best & to gain the experience from matching up against high level teams“, said Saelua in another social media post.
Saelua’s achievements have paved the way for greater inclusion and acceptance of non-binary and transgender athletes in the world of football. She has become a role model for many aspiring footballers, showing that with hard work, dedication, and perseverance, anything is possible.
Despite facing numerous challenges and obstacles throughout her career, Saelua has remained steadfast in her commitment to the sport she loves. Her story serves as an inspiration to people all over the world, reminding us of the power of sports to break down barriers and unite us all.