FIFA Secretary-General leaving after 7 years as pioneering woman in football

FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura talks to the media during a news conference at the St. Petersburg Stadium, Russia, on June 16, 2017. Samoura is leaving after seven years as the highest profile woman working in world soccer, the governing body said Wednesday June 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File)
Spread the love

GENEVA (AP) — FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura is leaving after seven years as the highest profile woman working in world soccer, the governing body said Wednesday.

Samoura will stay in the job she has held since 2016 through this year’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and leave at the end of the year, FIFA said.

The 60-year-old former United Nations official from Senegal was an unexpected hire seven years ago soon after the election of Gianni Infantino as FIFA president.

She became the first woman, first Black person, first Muslim and first non-European to be FIFA’s top administrator.

“It was the best decision of my life to join FIFA,” Samoura said in a statement. “I am very proud to have led such a diverse team.”

However, Infantino’s hands-on style as an executive president has meant Samoura has often struggled to establish a clearly defined public role in the $2 million-a-year job.

Samoura’s time in FIFA included helping oversee men’s World Cups played in Russia and Qatar, and awarding the 2026 edition that will be played in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

She started at FIFA when it was still dealing with the fallout from a sweeping investigation of corruption in soccer unsealed in 2015 by the United States Department of Justice. The case removed a swath of soccer leaders in the Americas and led to FIFA’s then-president Sepp Blatter leaving office early and secretary general Jérôme Valcke being fired.

Samoura’s first year in office saw further removals of Blatter-era staffers, turmoil inside FIFA’s Zurich’s headquarters in the transition to Infantino’s administration, and widespread cost-cutting.

“Ever since we met, I knew she would be superb for FIFA. Her passion and enthusiasm to drive change has been inspirational,” Infantino said Wednesday in the FIFA statement.

Samoura will leave with FIFA’s finances in good health. It has built reserves of close to $4 billion, earned record revenue of $7.5 billion from the four-year commercial cycle tied to the World Cup in Qatar and targeted at least $11 billion in revenue from the next men’s tournament in North America.

“FIFA today is a better governed, more open, more reliable and more transparent organization,” she said. “I will leave FIFA with a high sense of pride and fulfillment.”

The past seven years also saw a flurry of FIFA projects to expand and add soccer tournaments with notable failures including a $25 billion deal tied to the Club World Cup and attempts to double the number of World Cups to play every two years instead of four.

Those ideas all were tied to Infantino’s office with Samoura barely involved, as the FIFA leader forged closer ties to Saudi Arabian political and soccer leaders.

FIFA gave no details of a process to find a new secretary general, whose first year in the job will include campaigns and votes next year to pick hosts for the 2027 Women’s World Cup and men’s World Cup in 2030.