SENEGALESE United Nations official, Ms. Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura, last week made history as she was appointed the first female Secretary-General of world football governing body, FIFA. Samoura, 54, is also the first African woman to head the secretariat of the organisation. The 21-year veteran of UN programmes has no previous experience in football, but her appointment by FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, has been well received in the football world. She has been widely described as the right person to bring a breath of fresh air to FIFA, which is currently embroiled in high level corruption charges.
Samoura’s appointment is a welcome endorsement of the ability of women to be change agents in a sport dominated by men. Until her appointment, she was the UN’s Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Nigeria. Her appointment was announced by the FIFA President at the 66th FIFA Congress in Mexico. According to the FIFA boss, Samoura “is a woman with international experience and vision who worked on some of the most challenging issues of our time”. She is also credited with a proven ability to build and lead teams and improve the way organisations perform. Importantly too, she is said to understand the importance of transparency and accountability in the quest for well-run and responsible organisations. She is also said to be experienced in the management of big budgets, human resources and finance. No doubt, these are sterling attributes, and we believe that she can bring her wealth of experience to bear on FIFA that is, at the moment, in dire need of reform. It is fitting too, that in view of the present crisis of leadership that is tearing the world football body apart, an outsider is appointed to run the secretariat of FIFA. In that regard, Ms. Samoura seems a perfect fit. As required under FIFA statutes, she is already undergoing an ‘eligibility check’ by the Independent Review Committee as provided by Article 37 of the FIFA statutes. If she scales that test as expected, she will officially assume her new role as FIFA Secretary-General before mid-June.
The new FIFA Secretary-General designate has been widely praised on her new appointment. We subscribe to the global appreciation of her selection because her background and accomplishments speak volumes of her skills and experience as a strategic, high-impact team builder in international settings, her lack of experience in football administration notwithstanding.
More importantly, after the crisis that has rocked FIFA in the last one year and consequently led to the forced resignation of its immediate past president, Joseph Sepp Blatter, and the UEFA President, Michel Platini, as well as the disgrace of FIFA former Secretary-General, Jerome Vacke, the credibility of FIFA has come under a huge blanket of suspicion. The appointment of Samoura could, therefore, be seen as sunshine after a storm. Expectedly, her strong administrative skills horned in the multi-cultural environment of the UN will stand her in good stead in this appointment.
We agree with the new FIFA President that the appointment of someone from outside the inner caucus of the discredited FIFA leadership could bring fresh perspectives to global football administration. We, therefore, urge Ms. Samoura to recognise that her new assignment comes with heavy responsibilities and expectations. She is expected to make a huge impact.
Samoura started her career at UN as a senior logistics officer with the World Food Programme in Rome, Italy in 1995. She has also served as Country Representative and director in six countries, including Djibouti, Cameroun, Chad, Guinea, Madagascar and Nigeria. She is a multi-linguist. She speaks fluent French, English, Spanish, Italian and her native Wolof. It is gratifying that she has pledged to bring her “experience in governance and compliance to bear on the important reform work that is already underway at FIFA”.
With FIFA taking a fresh approach to its work, Samoura should be committed and eager to play a vital role in not only making that approach as effective and sustainable, she should strive to improve the image of the organisation. This is why her appointment is seen in some quarters as an image makeover for FIFA. She should not see herself as a puppet of those who appointed her.
As Secretary-General of FIFA, Samoura will supervise about 400 staff members of the Secretariat at its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. She will also be responsible for FIFA’s finances, international relations, the organisation of the FIFA World Cup and FIFA football competitions. These are by no means easy tasks. She should avoid the banana peels that brought down her predecessor, Jerome Vacke. We wish her a successful tenure.