Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Transgender first from American Samoa

Two firsts from the tiny footballing country of American Samoa.

For years the little Pacific island was known as being the country which lost 31-0 to Australia in a World Cup qualifying game.

But now there have been two major breakthroughs. Firstly the country officially last in the Fifa rankings has won its first game. Secondly, and more importantly, was the appearance of defender Johnny Saelua.

He is believed to be the first transgender athlete to compete in a World Cup qualifying match.

Media reports say Saelua is part of the fa’afafine, biological males who identify as a third sex that is widely accepted in Polynesian culture.

He is reported as saying: “The team accept me and we have that mutual respect - which is great. It’s all part of the culture.”

This marks a truly important step in football history. Transgender athletes have long had difficulties in playing any sport, something which is discriminatory and simply wrong.

One only needs to remember the media storm surrounding 800m runner Caster Semenya to see the simplistic view that many have on the issue.

Saelua's appearance shows that the views in global football are becoming more accepting to those who belong to the LGBT community.

The comments of American Samoa's coach Thomas Rongen were perhaps less helpful to this ongoing battle but do ask an important question. He said: “I’ve really got a female starting at centre back. Can you imagine that in England or Spain?”

People in more established footballing countries, whether they are fans, players or part of the establishment, have to ask themselves this question.

What reaction would Saelua get if he signed for an English football club? Would there be general hysteria or would people accept him for the committed and talented footballer he is? It is a question that one day we hope is asked as it will only help people realise that football is for all, regardless of who you are.

1 comment:

  1. So proud of Johnny "Jaiyah" Saelua!!!