Fifa’s new secretary-general is an African, and just as extraordinary, a woman. Senegal’s Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura’s appointment is being greeted with optimism in the football world with Fifa’s president Gianni Infantino believing she is the best person to help him rebuild the organisation.
Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura’s two decades with the United Nations gives her the experience to help Fifa remake itself as a better run more transparent organization. (Image: Fifa)
A United Nations humanitarian coordinator will replace the disgraced Jerome Valcke as secretary-general of Fifa. It is hoped that Senegal’s Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura, a woman with 21 years of experience at the UN, will help the football governing body restore its integrity and improve the perception of it being an ethically challenged organisation.
In announcing her appointment – she will join the organisation in June – Fifa president Gianni Infantino said Samoura’s appointment showed his administration’s resolve to change Fifa. “She has a proven ability to build and lead teams, and improve the way organisations perform. Importantly for Fifa, she also understands that transparency and accountability are at the heart of any well-run and responsible organisation.”
For her part, Samoura believes in Infantino’s mission to bring “football back to Fifa and Fifa back to football”. Her appointment is a step into another strategic, high-impact rebuilding position for the senior logistics officer of the UN’s World Food Programme. “Fifa is taking a fresh approach to its work – and I am eager to play a role in making that approach as effective and lasting as possible.”
Samoura’s appointment is a breath of fresh air for an organisation that has always appointed leaders from within the world of football. She is, according to Infantino, the spur that will help Fifa restore and rebuild. “No one exemplifies what we need more than Fatma does, and we are thrilled that she has joined our team. Fatma is a woman with international experience and vision who has worked on some of the most challenging issues of our time.”
While she may have no experience negotiating television or sponsorship deals, she has spent her UN career brokering pacts and negotiating agreements worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
It is this experience that made her the ideal replacement for the flawed Valcke, says Infantino. “She has a proven ability to build and lead teams, and improve the way organisations perform. Importantly for Fifa, she also understands that transparency and accountability are at the heart of any well-run and responsible organisation.”
Samoura earned a master’s degree in English and Spanish – just two of at least four languages she speaks – from the University of Lyon and a post-master’s degree from the Institut d’Etudes Supérieures Spécialisées – Strasbourg-France in international relations and international trade.
The Fifa president praised her experience and vision, which was gained working on some of the most challenging issues facing the globe. Samoura has served as country representative or director for six African countries – Djibouti, Cameroon, Chad, Guinea, Madagascar and Nigeria – with responsibility for budgeting, human resources, and procurement.
She oversees 2 000 staff in a multicultural organisation, and monitors and evaluates the security, political and socioeconomic situation in Nigeria for the World Food Programme.
Infantino wants to split administration duties at Fifa into two to cover football-specific aspects and the administration and business part. He sees Samoura as the perfect and most competent person as he rebuilds Fifa from within. “Her expertise will complement the long-standing and deep knowledge of world football within the Fifa leadership team and administration.”
The BBC’s sports editor, Dan Roan, called Samoura’s appointment important for two reasons. First, he wrote, it shows Infantino’s desire to reach out to Africa’s footballing administrators who remember Sepp Blatter as the man who brought the World Cup to Africa.
With her experience and being from outside Fifa, Roan went on, she fills sponsors and fans demands for someone independent from the football politics that has tainted the organisation. “With new reforms limiting the powers of the Fifa president, Ms Samoura arguably becomes the most important figure in world football. Effectively the chief executive of the governing body, she will be in charge of the day-to-day running of the organisation as it attempts to recover from the corruption crisis that has threatened its very existence.”
One of the most important reforms is the elevation of more women to senior positions in what had previously been a boys’ club. The new Fifa Council must include at least one woman from each of Fifa’s six confederations. Besides Samoura, six more women will be joining decision-making bodies at Fifa, up from just a single female voice in the former executive council.