Journal 40 – Interview of Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura
« We believe in football’s transformational power »
Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura is a Senegalese former United Nations diplomat of twenty years’ experience who became the first female Secretary General of FIFA in May 2016. Her vision is very clear: to use its unifying, educational, cultural and humanitarian values to improve and promote football so as to put it at the service of society.
You are the first woman to hold the post of Secretary General of FIFA. What is your role in the new structure put in place in the organisation?
FS: My role consists of managing the administration, comprising more than five hundred employees from forty-two countries, with a competent team, and of implementing the FIFA 2.0 vision unveiled by the FIFA President last year. It is the first time in the history of the organisation that such a long-term strategy has been set out. We have set ourselves ambitious objectives, including investing four billion dollars in developing football over the coming decade, doubling the number of women players throughout the world by 2026 – to sixty million – by means of a plan aimed at making women’s football a mainstream sport, and taking back control of major business operations such as FIFA World Cup ticketing and organising activities. I think that President Infantino’s decision to appoint a woman to one of the main positions in football’s governance, a realm generally dominated by men, conveys a strong message. As a woman, the personal touch that I want to bring is in promoting diversity at every level, and gender equality in our recruitment, with a view to increasing the number of women in senior management positions.
You are a former diplomat, and you were appointed in a difficult context. How will your previous experience, particularly with the United Nations, help you in your current mission?
FS: During my twenty-one years with the United Nations I have lived and worked in the centre of emergency situations and in complex socio-political, security and humanitarian contexts, for example in Kosovo, Liberia, Guinea, Chad, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Nigeria, Madagascar, Salvador, Guatemala East Timor, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. During these missions I ran complex humanitarian and development projects, in contexts of political transition. This experience has given me a firm understanding of the multidimensional challenges faced by many developing countries.
That is why I will do everything I can to fulfil FIFA’s statutory objectives, which concern improving and promoting football so as to put the sport at the service of society by using its unifying, educational, cultural and humanitarian values. My aim is to ensure that football does all it can in the battle against social exclusion, sexism and discrimination, as well as attaining its sustainability targets. In my experience, success in these fields is only possible with cooperation and international partnerships, with, for example, the United Nations, regional organisations and stakeholders from civil society. So that is an aspect which I would hope to reinforce.
I often say that it is not the role of football to solve all the problems and evils in the world. But at the same time, it would be a mistake, and in particular a moral failing, if we did not try to put its huge potential at the service of our fellow human beings.
When I was at the United Nations, I used to seize every opportunity to promote human rights. The President and I both attach particular importance to FIFA’s new commitment to respecting internationally recognised human rights. We are constantly working on implementing our statutory commitment, using, yet again, a comprehensive approach.
Football is the most popular sport in the world, and its universal influence is widely recognised. How does FIFA use this power in developing its socio-educational programmes? Do you intend to further develop this mission? Can you give us a specific example of measures undertaken to illustrate this commitment?
FS: Absolutely. As I’ve already said, we believe in football’s transformational power, and social change and educational concepts should be the basis for our projects. We therefore already have several programmes linked to the social dimension of sport and we are currently studying various other possibilities taking this approach.
One of FIFA’s key programmes is focused on developing football. The new “Forward” programme arose from an unprecedented will to develop football in the whole world, with a significant increase in the means available for each member association and greater oversight of how they are used.
Another concrete example is the “Football for Hope” initiative, which supports community projects based on football and helps to improve the lives and prospects of young people throughout the world. Education about AIDS, solving conflicts, gender equality, combating early pregnancies and forced marriages, social integration for persons with an intellectual disability, youth leadership and life skills represent just some of our numerous objectives.
Finally, I’d like to mention a new strategic project called “Football for Schools”, a framework for governments, member associations and FIFA to pool their efforts in the name of public interest and the promotion of social objectives, and identify the specific needs of local communities on a case by case basis. The main elements of the project are the incorporation of football and other sports in school programmes, the renovation of football pitches in schools, training and developing the skills of coaches and instructors, and the inclusion of a programme based on psychosocial skills. I believe that sport is a tool which should be made available to politicians, and as football’s guardians, it is our responsibility to initiate and implement all the positive synergies possible.