By Prarthana Mitra
Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura made history when she became FIFA’s first female Secretary General (SG). Hailed as soccer’s power woman, Senegal’s Samoura who identifies as a practising Muslim also broke racial and religious barriers when she was appointed by world football’s governing body to replace Jérôme Valcke from France in 2016.
Two years in, she is already shaking things up in the soccer world and hailing female empowerment in the process. Under her watch, the number of women within FIFA’s administration has increased from 32% in 2016 to 48% in 2018, and a new Women’s Football Division has also been created with New Zealand’s Sarai Bareman at its helm.
"You cannot grow football if you leave half of the world's population behind."
— BBC 100 Women (@BBC100women) June 14, 2018
“FIFA is like the UN of Football”
54-year-old Fatma Samoura’s resume sings of her accomplishments so far. In an interview with Arab News, Samoura has said, “[…]from my childhood to the day I started working I have always been surrounded by supportive people who believe in female empowerment.”
“Throughout my life,” she adds, “I have always faced challenges as a woman in a traditional society or in a workplace dominated by men, but what has really taken me to where I am is hard work.”
By the age of 25, she already had a master’s degree in English and Spanish, another in international relations and trade, followed by her 21-year humanitarian career with the United Nations, which she claims exposed her to the power of sports in unifying communities and driving social change.
— Forbes (@Forbes) April 3, 2018
At FIFA’s 2018 Conference for Equality and Inclusion, she said, “The only moment when people would stop fighting and receiving orders from the warlords was when it was raining or when they were playing football,” she said. “You cannot simply ignore the power of a sport that sparks the passion of so many millions around the globe.”
She has actively supported peace and fostered gender equality efforts in disaster-prone countries like Chad, Darfur, Nigeria, and Madagascar which is where she was first acquainted with FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who later went on to recommend her for the job.
So happy Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura Appointed #FIFA Secretary General. Strong move by Gianni Infantino and an important first step.
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) May 13, 2016
Soccer’s most powerful woman
Although her appointment was met with cynicism by those sceptical about her inexperience with respect to football, Samoura believes that her different background and international experience may be an asset. Besides, she went to school with the former Senegalese goalkeeper Cheikh Seck, and her uncle and husband were both soccer players. Through these connections, she has always been in touch with the sport.
Upon her appointment, she responded saying, “I believe this role is a perfect fit for my skills and experience – strategic, high-impact team-building in international settings – which I will use to help grow the game of football all over the world”.
“As for being a woman, I don’t feel any added pressure. Instead, I see it as an opportunity,” she says.
Samoura is the face of change for what has predominantly and exclusively been a boy’s club since 1904. Embroiled in controversy and corruption ever since the last World Cup, FIFA has been desperate to reform their public image in a bid to appear as a more diverse, open and transparent organisation.
An intensive overhaul in management and authority has finally given way to a non-European female SG seated at the helm of the table. And under her watch, the world’s most widely-loved sport is more inclusive than ever.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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