LGBT Profile: Jaiyah Saelua; Soccer Player, World Cup Qualifier, Transgender Female

From VICE news:

In 2011, American Samoa’s Jaiyah Saelua became the first transgender person to play in a FIFA World Cup qualifier. Her appearance on the field made history — but so did her play.

At the time, American Samoa continually found itself at the bottom of the FIFA world rankings. It was the world’s worst soccer team, having never won a match in international competition — the team had scored twice in 17 years of play — and having famously suffered a 31-0 defeat to Australia in 2001, which remains the worst defeat in the history of international soccer.

During a 2011 qualifier against Tonga, American Samoa was winning 2-1. But a tie seemed assured when American Samoa’s goalie rushed forward and a pass headed toward their goal. Saelua, however, had dropped back, and she was able to clear the ball just before it rolled in, thus preserving the team’s first-ever victory.

[snip]

The Dutch coach of the American Samoan team, Thomas Rongen, gets a lot of credit for turning the team around. How did he do it?
When he first got there, we thought he’d be like, “I could care less.” Another white man coming to do his job and leave. But nobody showed any interest in helping us grow as players more than Coach Thomas. He genuinely wanted to help us become better. He didn’t only work on our physical skills, he trained us to think as winners. We were so used to losing, our train of thought became, Let’s go represent our country on a free trip. If we don’t make it, oh well. Coach Thomas changed our perspective. Because of that, we were able to become better players physically too.

How did he deal with you as transgender?
He pulled me aside and asked if it was Johnny or Jaiyah. [Other coaches had called Jaiyah “Johnny” in the past.] I said “Jaiyah.” From that point, I realized he actually cared that I was different, as opposed to other coaches who would just have me on the sidelines. He would give me advice, and he pushed his wife to me to give me advice on being feminine around all these boys. I was even more comfortable being trans because Coach Thomas was accepting and supportive.

The story of Jaiyah’s team is the subject of the documentary Next Goal Wins.

Read the full VICE News article

Visit the website for the documentary Next Goal Wins

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