FIFA Secretary-General Fatma Samoura hails female empowerment
FIFA Secretary-General Fatma Samoura hails female empowerment
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.
To mark International Women’s Day, Arab News spoke exclusively to Samoura about her journey to becoming the most influential female in world football.
Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura was born in Dakar on Sept. 9, 1962, two years after Senegal declared independence from France. The former United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator acknowledges her parents laid the foundations for her to become the woman she is today.
“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.
“When I returned to Senegal, I occupied a position that was traditionally occupied by men, but I had the support of my boss, who was French and who had a very high opinion of Senegalese women. For this reason, I can say that from my childhood to the day I started working I have always been surrounded by supportive people who believe in female empowerment.”
Samoura joined the United Nations in 1995 and moved to Italy. Her job, however, would continually take her back to Africa as she worked to improve situations in places such as Chad, Madagascar, Darfur and Nigeria. It was in Madagascar during a World Cup 2018 qualifying game in November 2015 that she first met Infantino, who was reportedly immediately impressed. When the Swiss-Italian won the presidency four months later, she sent him an email. He called her, eventually offering her the job.
“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.”
FIFA’s reforms include statutory obligations to promote and support women in football and a requirement of at least one female representative in each of the six confederations on the FIFA Council. A new Women’s Football Division dedicated to the development of the female game has also been created and is led by New Zealand’s Sarai Bareman, the only woman on FIFA’s 2016 Reform Committee.
Samoura, who went to school with the former Senegalese goalkeeper Cheikh Seck and whose uncle and husband are both former players, said: “Football is nothing new to me, I have been surrounded by it since I was six years old, but I am proud to see the changes we are making and the progress we are taking in regard to the women’s game.
“Throughout my life, 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. I never expected anybody to do me a favor because I am a woman, and I still don’t.”
‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay
- A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half gave Uruguay a 1-0 win
- Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance
ROSTOV-ON-DON: Good, but not good enough.
That was what Juan Antonio Pizzi stated as he declared himself pleased with his team’s performance in the 1-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday night.
But he lamented his side’s lack of firepower as they exited the World Cup after just two matches.
Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance in Rostov-on-Don after losing their opening game 5-0 to hosts Russia in Moscow last week.
The Argentine got his wish with a display that saw the Green Falcons fight throughout and edge possession against a Uruguay side ranked 14th in the world.
A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half after poor goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais, however, was enough to hand the Green Falcons a 12th successive World Cup defeat.
The result means that even with a win against Egypt on Monday, the Green Falcons are no longer capable of progressing to the knock-out stages from Group A.
“We had a lot of ball possession and were able to impose our style of play and distribution,” said Pizzi. “We conceded a goal from a random play and didn’t have the weapons or tools to try to equalize. We kept the ball well and weren’t really troubled defensively, but lacked that ability to score.”
Indeed, for all their possession, Saudi Arabia have managed just three shots on target in 180 minutes of football. Against Russia, they failed to muster a single effort on target and the managed just three against Uruguay, two of which came in the final minutes when they knew they had to score or face elimination. None of the three shots came from a striker.
“This is our weakness. We have good ball possession, but no effectiveness. We lack the depth and skill required to win these games,” Pizzi added. “We have that deficiency and have looked for solutions, but we haven’t quite come up with one yet. But that is one of the reasons great forward are in high demand and are the elite players in world football.”
Pizzi had made four changes ahead of the match, dropping goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf in favor of Al-Owais and introducing Ali Al-Bulayhi at the heart of the defense alongside Osama Hawsawi. Further upfield, Hattan Bahberi came in for Yahya Al-Shehri and Fahad Al-Muwallad replaced Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. The changes, particularly the inclusion of Bahberi, seemed to give the side more impetus in midfield.
“The difference between the performance in the first game and this game is enormous,” Pizzi said. “The only way to compete at this level is to play at the level we did here. And even then it was not enough even to get a draw. Undoubtedly there were other factors aside from the pressure of playing in the opening game that made a difference, but it’s true that the difference was enormous.”
Many critics had predicted a deluge of goals from the likes of Suarez and Cavani, yet both were kept at bay. Save for a couple of half-chances early on, neither came close to scoring until the 23rd minute.
A corner from Carlos Sanchez sailed into the area and when Al-Owais came for it but failed to connect with his punch, Barcelona forward Suaréz was left with the simplest of tap-ins. He was so caught off-guard, he actually looked surprised as he reeled away in celebration.
“I believe you cannot be relaxed in any match,” Suarez said when asked by a Uruguayan journalist whether he had taken it easy against the Saudis.
“We wanted to win and to progress to the knock-out stage and this game simply showed how difficult it is. That’s the World Cup for you though and we are obviously delighted with how we have performed so far to progress.”
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez did not share his striker’s sentiments.
“Saudi Arabia wanted to excel and give a better account of themselves after losing to Russia,” he said.
“They did that very well and we have to respect them. But what surprised me the most is how we played. We underperformed.”