As FIFA’s secretary general, Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura is one of the most powerful figures in world football.
Her appointment last June was historic and groundbreaking — the 54-year-old from Senegal is the first woman, and the first non-European, to hold an executive post at soccer’s governing body.
Nearly a year into her role, Samoura talks exclusively to CNN Sport about major issues plaguing the game, from inequality and racism to hooliganism and corruption.
‘FIFA facelift ongoing’
Since May 2015, when the US Department of Justice indicted several top executives, FIFA has been engulfed in claims of widespread corruption.
Two of the most powerful men in the sport — then FIFA president Sepp Blatter and former UEFA president Michel Platini — are serving lengthy bans from all football-related activities, while a Swiss criminal investigation is ongoing.
While Gianni Infantino promised to restore the organization’s reputation upon his appointment as FIFA’s new president, Samoura is intent on ensuring there is equal representation of men and women at all levels of its hierarchy.
“We are regenerating the organization in many ways,” Samoura told CNN. “The facelift is still ongoing and we would like to see more women in senior positions.
“When you look at FIFA at the low executive level, there are more women than men. In fact, 61% of women and less than 40% men.
“But as we are getting higher to the football governing body hierarchy today we are only 42% of women and definitely the target is to have, by the end of the first mandate term of the president, 50% representation at all levels — including at all levels in the confederation level.”
Women at the center of football
While it took FIFA 100 years to appoint its first female executive, Samoura has set her sights on putting women at the center of the sport.
Making women’s football self-sufficient and less dependent on the men’s game by focusing on sponsorship and television rights is a must, she says.
“We need to talk seriously to media broadcasters but also to our commercial partners so that they give additional consideration and definitely more revenue to women’s competitions,” the former United Nations director and representative said.
“We are, let’s say, heavily dependent on the men’s World Cup in order to fund all of our other competitions.
“The overarching goal that I’d like to push whilst I’m still in FIFA is to make sure that the women’s competitions generate their own resources, especially that the women’s World Cup will generate enough resources to support the youth and grassroots and women’s competitions in general.”
Zero tolerance to hooliganism
The spotlight has been put on Russian hooliganism since the country’s football fans were blamed for the violence which erupted in the French city of Marseille during Euro 2016.
With Russia hosting this year’s Confederations Cup — a FIFA tournament that acts as a small-scale dress rehearsal to its staging of the 2018 World Cup — many fear a repeat of those brutal scenes which injured and hospitalized many.
Samoura said the governing body had “learned a great deal” from those street clashes in France, which centered around the group-stage match between Russia and England.
“We’ve been working very closely with security authorities throughout the country in order to really make sure that people coming from abroad but also fans, especially when it comes to the Confederations Cup, don’t really suffer from any ill treatment,” she said.
“Definitely we at FIFA make sure that there is a zero tolerance policy for all competitions that we are organizing and Russia will also be very seriously scrutinized when it comes to anti-sport and anti-social behavior.”
‘Education key to tackling racism’
In recent years, a number of black footballers playing in Russia’s top flight have complained of repeated and persistent racism, while human rights activists highlighted the government’s anti-gay propanda legislation ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
How accepting will Russia be of those who visit the country during the June 17-July 2 Confederations Cup and the World Cup?
Samoura — who is responsible for running FIFA’s finances, the organization of the World Cup, and other competitions — said education was key.
“Sanctions are not always efficient. I believe in education,” said Samoura, who admitted to experiencing racist abuse while attending a football match with her husband when at the UN.
“Changing the perception of people, changing the mentality, changing the way that culturally people learn takes time and people should recognize that and give people enough time to do that.
“There are several ways to do it. The first one is definitely to tell the people that we are living in a global world and these things should not happen, so education.
“The second thing is definitely to impose sanctions and the third thing is to give even stronger sanctions and get them out of business.
“What I know is that when teams in Europe started being fined and being imposed huge financial penalties, they are taking it more seriously.
“But for me, this is the last resort. Educating people is for me the key element to really get people evolving and changing their behavior.”
Politics and sport
FIFA is clamping down on government interference in football. As a result, Russia’s World Cup head Vitaly Mutko has been barred from seeking re-election to the FIFA Council after failing an eligibility check, with the organization saying he could no longer hold the role because of his position as the country’s deputy prime minister.
Mutko, also president of Russia’s football federation, has been directly implicated in the McLaren report, which alleged a state-backed doping program.
Russia has been suspended by athletics’ governing body the IAAF for state-sponsored doping, which covers August’s 2017 World Championships in London.
However, Samoura insisted doping would not be a problem at the World Cup next year and said Mutko had helped open doors to put football high on the agenda of Russia’s government.
“We take very seriously doping issues for all of our competitions and since the overall doping program is run by FIFA using laboratories that are accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), we have no reason to doubt or to think that there will be wrongdoing during our tournaments,” she said.
“FIFA competitions have not been impacted so far,” Samoura added.
“There was a rumor that some players may have been involved and we have asked specifically to have a copy of the report, and once we have it we will take it to the disciplinary and ethics committees and see what will be coming out, but for the time being it’s not a big issue.”