Holding a senior position in a male-dominated organization like FIFA is no easy feat for Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura.
The 56-year-old Senegalese, who is the first female secretary general of football’s world governing body recently revealed the sexism and racism she encountered when she took over the job.
“There are people who don’t think that a black woman should be leading the administration of Fifa. It’s sometimes as simple as that.
“It is something we are fighting on a daily basis on the pitch – I don’t want any racist person around me.
“Nobody asks a man when he takes a position if he’s competent to do the job. They just assume that he can do the job. For a woman to make her way up to the top – you need to prove every single day that you are the best fit for that position,” she told the BBC in an interview.
Samoura took over from Jerome Valcke in May 2016, who was found guilty of misconduct and sacked in June 2016.
Many welcomed Samoura’s appointment: she was going to be the first woman to hold FIFA’s second-most powerful post.
Critics, however, raised questions about whether Samoura was going to succeed considering she had no previous sporting experience.
Others also wanted to know why FIFA had taken so long to bring a woman or a non-European on its executive.
FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino had this to say about Samoura when she was given the role.
“Fatma is a woman with international experience and vision who has worked on some of the most challenging issues of our time,” he said.
“She has a proven ability to build and lead teams, and improve the way organisations perform. She also understands that transparency and accountability are at the heart of any well-run and responsible organisation.”
In April this year, two years after her appointment, Samoura came under investigations into an alleged conflict of interest concerning the Morocco 2026 World Cup bid.
She was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.
Samoura, despite the criticisms and controversies, has continued to perform her duties incredibly.
As FIFA’s general secretary, she is responsible for implementing council decisions and taking care of the organisation’s finances.
She also runs the body’s international relations, the organisation of the World Cup, and other competitions.
After two decades’ work at UN, Samoura has since brought her experience in diplomacy to bear by persuading Qatar to improve conditions for migrant workers constructing facilities for its 2022 World Cup.
“Over the past six months we haven’t heard anything negative about the worker condition in Qatar,” she said.
“It is a strong sign that football can help change cultural behaviour, even in the more conservative society.”
The world truly needs more women like Samoura in international sports and various sporting institutions.
FIFA needs to make it known to all and sundry that it is ready to embrace the benefits of gender diversity in decision-making, that it will see women’s football as a form of equality and that it will encourage girls across the world to achieve their dream in sports.
More women at the leadership ranks of the world’s football governing body will surely improve global soccer.
The improvement will be in multiple folds if FIFA is able to also ensure a fair share investment of resources in women’s game.