“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

World Soccer - - Face To Face -

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

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