Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, on Friday appointed Fatma Samoura of Senegal, a veteran United Nations diplomat, as the organization’s secretary general.
Samoura would be the first woman to hold a senior executive position in FIFA, world soccer’s governing body. In her new role, she would serve as the organization’s chief executive in the revamped governance structure that FIFA approved this year. FIFA said Samoura was expected to assume her new post in June, after she passes the eligibility and integrity checks now required of top executives.
“It is essential for FIFA to incorporate fresh perspectives — from outside the traditional pool of football executives — as we continue to restore and rebuild our organization,” Infantino said in making the announcement at the FIFA Congress in Mexico City. “No one exemplifies what we need more than Fatma does, and we are thrilled that she has joined our team.”
Samoura has decades of experience in United Nations programs in Africa, most recently as the resident representative for the United Nations Development Program in Nigeria. While a bold choice by Infantino, she does not appear to have any experience in sports governance or in negotiating television rights and sponsorship agreements, which will be two of the major responsibilities as FIFA’s chief executive.
Still, Infantino said he was impressed with Samoura’s experience and with what appointing a woman to the post would represent, saying, “She will bring a fresh wind to FIFA — someone from outside.”
Reforms approved by FIFA this year broke the organization’s leadership, long centralized in the presidency, into two parts: an expanded FIFA Council to set broad strategy and policy and a general secretariat charged with overseeing commercial and operational responsibilities.
Samoura will be in charge of the latter role, a modified and strengthened one from the post as it had existed under the previous secretary general, Jérôme Valcke, who was fired last year amid an ethics investigation. Samoura will be the first woman, and the rare non-European, to hold one of FIFA’s top two positions.
“I believe this role is a perfect fit for my skills and experience — strategic, high-impact team building in international settings — which I will use to help grow the game of football all over the world,” Samoura said in a statement released by FIFA. “I also look forward to bringing my experience in governance and compliance to bear on the important reform work that is already underway at FIFA.”
FIFA, which did not appoint a woman to its ruling executive committee until 2013, had long been criticized as a men’s club with little regard — and little interest — in including women’s voices in the game or its leadership. But during his campaign for the presidency and in appearances since his election in February, Infantino has emphasized the development of women’s soccer as a priority. FIFA’s new reforms mandate the inclusion of women in leadership at many levels of the game, and Infantino has even floated the idea of creating a separate women’s division inside FIFA.
One thing is for certain: He is now president of a larger FIFA. In their final act of the day, FIFA’s members approved membership for Kosovo (over the strenuous and long-winded objections of Serbia) and Gibraltar, which had effectively forced FIFA’s hand by winning an appeal for membership at the Court of Arbitration for Sport this month.
The vote to make Kosovo FIFA’s 210th member was 141-to-23, meaning more than 40 members abstained or had their votes invalidated. The vote to admit Gibraltar as the 211th member federation was larger, 172-to-12.
Membership comes with an immediate payoff for both: Each is now eligible to enter Europe’s qualification process for the 2018 World Cup in Russiawhen it begins in the fall.