FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura reacts to the audience during the 2019 IWF Cornerstone Conference in Barcelona.
As the FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off this month, the latest edition of In the Lead features a conversation with one of sports’ most powerful people: FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura. While in Barcelona to speak at our 2019 Cornerstone Conference, Samoura talked to us about why she decided to take the role at FIFA, what she's changing to make football a powerful force for good, and how a new slogan – #DareToShine – will help take the women’s game to a new level.
You had a 21-year career with the United Nations before entering one of the highest offices in international sport. What was it about the Secretary General position, FIFA and the sports world that persuaded you to take the job?
One of the key factors in my decision to take up the role as FIFA Secretary General was the power of football and the positive impact it can have on the lives of people around the world. This is at the heart of my agenda, and that of the FIFA President – we believe in using football to bring about positive change when and where possible.
A concrete example of this is our Football for Schools programme, which will see millions of children around the globe learn life skills through football. Following the 32nd Ordinary Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the FIFA President, along with the President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Ahmed Ahmed, signed an historic MoU with the African Union (AU). The MoU means that all three bodies will join forces to support education through football by using it as a tool to improve the lives and education of schoolchildren across the 55 countries that make up the AU. It will also see the development and training of teachers, as well as include the implementation of FIFA’s new Football for Schools Programme, which will see the distribution of 11 million balls to as many schools as possible around the globe while contributing to the development of life skills for children through the promotion of football’s key values. This is using football to bring about positive change and something I am very excited about!
Your appointment as Secretary General sparked a lot of attention and conversation. But it also ushered in a sense of hope – from FIFA employees, players and spectators – that things will change. How does this affect the way you approach your job?
I believe that people in powerful or important positions have a responsibility to make positive change when and where they can. As the first African, female and Muslim Secretary General of FIFA, I know that many women look up to me, so it is important for me to be seen as a someone who not only encourages, but celebrates diversity. This is one of the priorities I have at FIFA. Bringing more women into senior roles is paramount to me.
I have also been keen to make sure that there is a chance for voices from all regions of the world to be heard. This was also a key element of the reforms FIFA underwent – to have a more balanced representation of the different regions of the world on the FIFA Council, and I’m happy to say that this has happened. To give you an example, under the old administration, Africa only had four seats on the Executive Committee. Now we have increased this to seven, giving Africa a greater voice at the top decision-making body.
Another particular change I am very happy with is the diversity of staff since my appointment. Now I am seeing faces from Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America at our HQ and across the organisation, and we hope to continue this into the future.
I am very aware of the unique position I hold, as a role model and a trailblazer for many women, and women of colour in particular. I use my social media presence to reach out to young women and encourage and empower them to be the best they can be, to chase their dreams, achieve their goals and very simply, #DareToShine.
The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be held in France this summer. Tell us about it.
The slogan of this summer’s FWWC, “Dare to Shine,” encapsulates FIFA’s desire to take the women’s game to the next level. We want girls and women to believe in themselves and to feel empowered through football.
I am really looking forward to the FWWC this summer. The competition will provide a great stage for the world to see the tremendous levels of skill in women’s football. It will also provide a chance for many young girls around the world to tune in and be inspired by seeing their sisters compete at the biggest competition in women’s football. This will no doubt encourage more young girls and women to get involved in football and believe that if they too Dare to Shine, they have the potential to become world class footballers.
There are so many things that excite me about the developments that have taken place in the women’s game, especially as they have taken place at a time when women around the world are uniting to support each other in society, business and sport.
Women’s football is moving into an exciting and luminous new era, helped in part by changes at FIFA, which saw the creation of its first-ever Women’s Football Division in 2016, the launch of the Divisions’ inaugural Global Strategy for Women’s Football in 2018, and decisions taken by the FIFA Council in October 2018 to approve a financial contribution of $50 million to the 24 teams competing in the 2019 FWWC (three times the amount paid in 2015). The additional council decisions on introducing preparation money to support qualified teams pre-tournament and a Club Benefits Programme to reward clubs releasing players, as well as the establishment of a task force for Women’s Football, demonstrate FIFA’s desire to see the women’s game flourish and take it to the next level.
I’d like to encourage all of your readers to tune into the FIFA Women’s World Cup when it kicks off on June 7 in Paris, and use the hashtags #DareToShine, #lemomentdebriller and #ElMomentoDeBrillar on social media to support, encourage and empower young girls and women out there to believe in themselves and to feel empowered through football.
FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura answers questions during the 2019 IWF Cornerstone Conference in Barcelona.
You have long been a champion of diversity in sport, having made tremendous strides in amplifying the women’s game. What would you say to women who remain frustrated with the pace of progress?
I would tell them that under my watch at FIFA, the progress train has left the station! I am very proud of our two very strong female Chief Officers and our six female FIFA Council members, (each representing a football confederation) who are not afraid to use their voices and make themselves heard; our 39 female members of FIFA Committees and 16 female Secretary Generals in MAs around the world. And there is, of course, me, the first female Secretary General in the history of FIFA, driving the progress train forward at a steady speed and frequently checking to make sure that everyone is welcome on board.