‘Samoura is secretary general FIFA needs now’
Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura made history on Friday when she became the first woman, as well as the first African to head the world football governing body’s secretariat.
Ms. Samoura, Senegalese, is a 21-year veteran of United Nations programmes, who until her appointment was the United Nations’ Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Nigeria.
Friday’s announcement by FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, at the 66th FIFA Congress in Mexico City came as a surprise to many followers of the world body. But FIFA said it took the decision to appoint the Senegalese after carefully going through the resume of many candidates for the position.
Explaining the decision to choose Samoura as the body’s Secretary General, Infantino described the Senegalese as a woman with international experience and vision, who has worked on some of the most challenging issues of our time
He added: “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.”
As required under FIFA statutes, Ms. Samoura will undergo an eligibility check administered by the independent Review Committee, per Article 37 of the FIFA Statutes and if successful, she will assume the role of FIFA Secretary General before mid-June.
But the question is: Why did FIFA decide to choose an African woman in these turbulent times when the body has been exposed as one of the most corrupt organisations among world bodies?
Infantino explained that the body was particularly impressed with her operational experience, as well as her expertise in governance and working in multi-cultural environments.
That expertise, Infantino added, will complement the long-standing and deep knowledge of world football within the FIFA leadership team and administration.
“It is essential for FIFA to incorporate fresh perspectives – from outside the traditional pool of football executives – as we continue to restore and rebuild our organisation. No one exemplifies what we need more than Fatma does, and we are thrilled that she has joined our team.”
What this means is that Samoura may be an outsider as far as football is concerned, but her over two decades experience in the crisis-filled diplomatic world would help FIFA’s recovery from its recent history.
Responding to questions on her new responsibility, Samoura said in an interview published on Monday that, “My goal is to support the programme of president Gianni (Infantino) and to help football restore its tarnished image. And to those who speak of my lack of experience, I say give me the time to prove myself.”
She is currently in Abuja as the United Nations Development Programme representative at a summit to discuss efforts to defeat Boko Haram Islamists.
Before moving to Nigeria, Samoura served as the representative of the UN Development Programme in post-coup Madagascar from 2010 to 2015. And the 54-year-old sees FIFA as “the United Nations of football and I bring 21 years of experience in the private sector and the UN in terms of good governance and transparency, and the obligation to make the different federations and FIFA accountable.”
Samoura’s years with the UN, including with the World Food Programme, have taken her crisis-management skills to hotspots such as Afghanistan, Chad and Darfur.
“We must try to restore football to what it was, the most popular sport that breaches social divides,” she told AFP.
“And one of the things I am going to try to do is bring greater support to women’s football.”
She told the AFP that she met Infantino, who was appointed to succeed Sepp Blatter in February, for the first time in November last year.
“I was in Madagascar at the time and it was during a match between Madagascar and Senegal,” in a qualifier for the 2018 World Cup, she said.
“But we did not speak at all about the secretary general post. At the time he was not yet a candidate for the FIFA presidency and was preparing Michel Platini’s campaign.
“After dinner, somebody told me about what he had said. And Gianni Infantino had apparently said: ‘If one day I am president of FIFA this is my secretary general’.
“When he was elected it was me who went to talk to him. I sent him a mail and he called me. He then offered the post to me…
“He made me an offer and he convinced me!”
A mother of three, whose husband’s dreams of becoming a football pro were shattered when he broke his leg at 20, Samoura has rubbed shoulders with footballers from an early age.
The daughter of an army colonel, she went to school with Cheikh Seck, goalkeeper for the Senegalese national team in the 1980s, and befriended Camerounian footballing legend, Roger Milla, during a posting in Yaounde.
“They even made out I hid him in my car with its diplomatic plates after their (Cameroun’s) defeat in the final of the 1986 African Cup of Nations” by Egypt, she recalled on Saturday.
Among her idols she lists former Bayern Munich winger and now president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and retired Malian striker, Salif Keita, who played for Marseille.
Observers said Infantino’s choice of Samoura, who speaks fluent English, Spanish, French and Italian, as well as Wolof, represents an image makeover for FIFA.
“She will not be there to make him look good, she is not a gimmick. She will be loyal to Gianni Infantino but she will change things,” Francis Kpatinde, a close friend of Samoura and a former editor of the weekly Jeune Afrique, told AFP.
“This is not a puppet who has been put in there.”
Tokyo Sexwale, the South African politician and tycoon who was a candidate for the FIFA presidency, said what counted most was her management expertise.
“She’s someone who has worked in the system of the United Nations and understands what is required in terms of an executive,” Sexwale told AFP.
“The fact that she is a woman is not number one for me, number one, she must be a human who can be capable.”
• Culled from AFP
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