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'First' transgender professional soccer player walks long road to acceptance

SYDNEY -- Jaiyah Saelua may be nearing the end of her soccer career, but the “world's first” transgender professional player says she has more to achieve as the sport celebrates the World Cup in Brazil.

The striking 1.83-meter center-back, who was born John Saelua, plans to quit the game after 2015 but hopes to remain involved in efforts to combat discrimination and homophobia in the sport.

“Just to get the message across that soccer should be a sport for everyone,” the American Samoa international told AFP during a visit to Sydney.

Saelua, first selected for American Samoa at the age of 14, says she “runs like a girl” and never considered her gender an issue. “Girls can be fast too,” she said.

The 25-year-old, who is known for her tough, physical tackles, wasn't even aware she was the first transgender player — as recognized by FIFA — to play in a men's international match before she did so.

“I didn't know the significance it had on the world because in Polynesian culture it's not that big of an issue.

“And I assumed that a lot more trans-people in the Pacific region were playing international football. I haven't met any in my career but I was so sure that there has been (some) before me.”

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