The FIFA Council today appointed Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura of Senegal as FIFA Secretary General (SG). Ms Samoura is a 21-year veteran of United Nations programmes who is currently the UN’s Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Nigeria. The announcement was made by FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the 66th FIFA Congress in Mexico City.
In June 2016, when newly elected president Gianni Infantino appointed her as his secretary-general, it went some way in suggesting “reform” was more than just a cute campaign slogan. Samoura, a black Muslim woman, became not only the first non-European to hold FIFA’s second-most powerful position, but also the first female to sit at the organization’s top table.
The appointment was greeted with a mixture of satisfaction and cynicism. Supporters hailed the former UN employee as an outsider, a clean break from the previous regime and free of the stench of corruption. Critics, in contrast, noted her lack of sporting administrative experience and proclaimed the appointment as mere window dressing by Infantino.
“I was the second of seven children, but the only girl,” said Samoura, by phone from FIFA HQ in Zurich. “Traditionally in Senegal, because we are a Muslim society, they would not consider a woman’s education as a priority but in the case of my family it was totally the opposite.
“My parents were both well educated — my mother was a teacher and my father was in the military — and they invested in my education, ensuring I was not discriminated either by my brothers or society. They gave me all the tools and support for me to grow up with an independent mindset.”
Samoura moved to France shortly after graduating from high school and spent the next six years studying. She returned home aged 25 with a master’s degree in English and Spanish from the University of Lyon and a postgraduate degree in international relations and trade from Strasbourg’s business school.
For eight years, she worked for one of the largest fertilizer companies in the world. She married and now has three children, two boys and a girl.
Since starting her UN career as a senior logistics officer with the World Food Programme in Rome in 1995, Ms Samoura has served as country representative or director in six countries: Republic of Djibouti, Cameroon, Chad, Guinea, Madagascar and Nigeria. She speaks French (her mother tongue), English, Spanish and Italian.
Prior to joining the UN, Ms Samoura spent eight years in the private sector, working in the fertiliser trading sector for Senchim, a subsidiary of Industries Chimiques du Senegal. Her areas of responsibility included product export and import programmes, tenders, and the establishment of a national distribution network.
Ms Samoura earned her Masters Degree in English and Spanish at the University of Lyon; and a Post-Masters Degree in international relations/international trade from the Institut d’Etudes Supérieures Spécialisées (IECS)- Strasbourg-France.
“I know there were other candidates,” said Samoura, who speaks French, English, Spanish, Italian and her native Wolof. “I cannot really say too much about the criteria for my appointment, but I think the fact that I was coming from a totally different background and yet had international experience was considered an asset. As for being a woman, I don’t feel any added pressure. Instead I see it as an opportunity. Already we can see FIFA is a more diverse, open and transparent organization than before and I am very proud to be leading this change.”