Nobody’s pretending that American Samoa’s soccer team is any good.
It held its place at the bottom of the FIFA’s world ranking for years, having scored two goals in 17 years and never winning an international competition.
To add insult to injury, in 2001 they earned the title of worst defeat ever in international football, losing to Australia 31-0.
But as is often the case in sports, the real lessons aren’t gleaned from a score board. The team has been admirably turning things around and is the subject of an upcoming documentary called Next Goal Wins.
And part of what makes the tiny Pacific island’s team so inspiring is Jaiyah Saelua, the transgender defender who has been dubbed the “first professional transgender footballer.”
The attitudes Jaiyah faces within her community deserve recognition, especially as transgender issues in athletics seems to be a hot button issue these days.
Speaking to PinkNews, Jaiyah said:
Before I was dubbed that title of the ‘world’s first professional transgender footballer’, I didn’t realize how big of an issue it was in the world, because in Polynesia there is no issue. Everyone is very accepting. I actually had to educate myself on that issue in the world, because in American Samoa, there are two transgender players who play for the men’s national volleyball team and one for the men’s national basketball team. There is also a transgender tennis player that represents American Samoa at the South Pacific Games and the Olympic qualifiers. So it’s different to see the world in a perspective where transgender athletes aren’t acknowledged.
She worries that as Western culture continues to permeate through more accepting cultures like that of Samoas, the discrimination and misinformation may burrow as well.
“I feel like the western influence is pushing its way into the Pacific, with Hawaii being one of the leading states of prostitution and transgender drug abuse.”
The team now has two wins under their belt — a success Jaiyah contributed to directly — and she plans to continue to fight for transgender athletes everywhere.
I feel like being the first transgender professional footballer in the world means I have a strong voice and a chance that can open up possibilities for other transgender athletes. We might not be developed as a country, or in the sports realm, but as a culture, I think we’re ahead.