“We do take very seriously the promotion and protection of human rights”
FIFA’s secretary-general shares her thoughts on the first 12 months of her tenure and what the future holds in store for football’s governing body
So, what does Fatma Samoura really do? Not what FIFA secretary-generals used to do, that’s for sure...
FIFA reforms made certain of that by clipping the secretary-general’s wings. They also clipped the wings of the president, but Gianni Infantino found a way around that, albeit with the democratic approval of council and congress.
Secretary-general is a big title, copied from the United Nations and embraced increasingly by other international sports federations in pursuit of self-agrandisement. Under Samoura’s high-profile predecessor, Jerome Valcke, it was a licence to spend at least a week or more every month out of the office giving prospective World Cup hosts “a kick up the backside”, negotiating sponsorship deals with the biggest multinationals, and sorting out the World Cup ticketing and hospitality contracts (which eventually brought him down).
These days the job’s prime focus – apart from embracing ambassadorial essentials – is more concerned with internal management and imposing as strict accountability as is possible on the worldwide development projects which devour most of FIFA’s income.
Critics who believe FIFA’s credibility has been fatally undermined by the excesses of the Sepp Blatter regime, and judge it no longer fit for purpose, have yet to come up with a new model to promote and develop the game.
Such an idea would not even occur to Samoura. Her appointment, just over a year ago, was an Infantino-inspired shock for council, congress and the wider football world. But the former UN official has no illusions about the job, the mistakes of the past or the media scrutiny.
Her first year has been a sharp learning curve.
How have you found your first year as secretary-general?
I’m still in a learning process but the main priority was to focus on implementing the reforms. There has been significant progress when it comes to, for example, putting in place a new administrative structure. That is, putting the governance of football and transparency – but also sustainability – into every action we take.
Have you spent much time out of the office?
I’ve attended many tournaments. I started with the European Championship in France last year, then the Champions League. I went to the United States to attend the Copa Centenario, to CAF on two occasions at the beginning and closing of the Nations Cup. To Colombia for the CoNmEBoL congress, to the Beach Soccer World Cup in the Bahamas and to the opening of the Under-20 FIFA World Cup in South Korea. Then I’ve spent two weeks in russia for my first big international tournament with the Confederations Cup.
How important is it that a woman has such a high-profile role within FIFA?
A lot has happened in terms of improving diversity, especially promoting gender parity within FIFA, starting with the executive committee. The last female member of the FIFA Council was elected two months ago in Bahrain so we now have six women representing each of the confederations, and a secretary-general, where a little while ago there were – how to say this – not that many of us. We have a fully functioning women’s division that is very active in finalising an ambitious strategy of having 60million women players registered by 2020.
What changes have you witnessed over the past 12 months?
We are doing a lot in terms of investing in football through our member associations and the budget for the cycle 2015-2018 is equivalent to $1.6bn, meaning that between 80 to 86 per cent of FIFA revenues is reinvested either in the education or the development of football. We have real football players in the house with, for example, marco Van Basten heading the technical division. They are working on modernising the refereeing with the video assistance refereeing system that has been in a test phase at the FIFA Confederations Cup. We are also implementing reform by putting in place a full audit and compliance division, really putting governance at the centre of the world governing body. more monitoring has been happening for [construction] workers to see who we can align with to improve working conditions in russia and also in Qatar. We do take very seriously the promotion and protection of human rights and, with the creation of a specific advisory board, we are now really working towards emphasising human rights when it comes to football and FIFA tournaments.
Coming into such a major role, where do you start?
First I started speaking with the staff. That was something they needed because the gap of communication with the previous leadership was so huge. So one of my first promises was to put in place an association, or a kind of club, in an atmosphere that is conducive to a dialogue, where the staff will feel free to express