KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Fatma Samoura, whose appointment ticked a string of diversity boxes for FIFA president Gianni Infantino, is stepping down as secretary-general of the world football federation. She will leave at the end of the year to “spend more time with my family.”

Samoura, confirming earlier than planned her decision, said: “I leave FIFA with a high sense of pride and fulfilment.” Infantino responded: “It has been a privilege and an honour to work with a trailblazer in the game.”

The 60-year-old Senegalese had been hailed as the welcome face of a ‘new FIFA’ on her arrival in Zurich in June 2016. She was the first woman to hold the role, the first non-European, the first black appointee and the first Muslim.

Fatma Samoura . . . history maker

However she wielded none of the power enjoyed by sacked predecessor Jerome Valcke as Infantino ignored the intentions of newly-enacted reforms and swiftly established himself as an all-powerful executive president.

Samoura may feel the job she was allowed to undertake did not match up to promises or her expectations.

The former United Nations director was landed with a number of tasks guaranteed to cause upset with the FIFA family.

Tough tasks

One of the first was slashing back on council members’ generous allowances. Later she upset the British FAs by threatening to punish England, Scotland and Wales if their players wore a poppy symbol on Remembrance Day. Subsequently Samoura attracted more enmity after being despached by Infantino to effectively take over running the ever-chaotic African confederation.

The mostly male bosses of the African game resented having FIFA interfering in their ‘private’ business. In the end Infantino had no option but to accept an early end to Samoura’s “mission”.

Speculation over a successor will focus initially on deputy secretary-generals Alasdair Bell and Mattias Grafstrom but Infantino need not rush into making an appointment and may prefer to extend his cosy relationships in the Arab world by seeking a suitable candidate within the Asian confederation.

FIFA statement:

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura will leave her role at the end of the year after seven years in which she played a pivotal role in transforming the organisation, restoring its credibility and breaking down barriers.

“It was the best decision of my life to join FIFA,” says FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura. “I am very proud to have led such a diverse team. My first word of thanks goes to Gianni Infantino for giving me this dream job. He has shown trust, understanding and an incredible level of support.

“It is a pleasure to work alongside someone that has transformed FIFA. FIFA today is a better governed, more open, more reliable and more transparent organisation. I will leave FIFA with a high sense of pride and fulfilment.

“I had intended to share my news first with the FIFA Council members next week, but I am aware there has been growing speculation about my position in recent months. For now, I am fully focused on the preparation and delivery of the upcoming Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

“I look forward to spending the next six months bringing to life the 11 objectives that President Infantino announced at the FIFA Congress in Kigali in March. From next year, I would like to spend more time with my family. I have been in love with football since I was eight years old and I feel honoured to have been on this journey.

“It has been a privilege and an honour to work with a trailblazer in the game,” says FIFA president Gianni Infantino. “Ever since we met, I knew she would be superb for FIFA. Her passion and enthusiasm to drive change has been inspirational. Fatma was the first woman, and the first African, to be appointed to such an important position at FIFA.

“We respect Fatma’s decision and I would like to thank her for such dedication and commitment to football. Fatma will continue to contribute towards the development of the game and its social values together with us.”

The first female and non-European to hold the role as head of FIFA’s administration, Fatma Samoura was a trailblazer from the moment she stepped into the Home of FIFA to take on her new role after her appointment in May 2016 by recently elected President Infantino. She has overseen unprecedented growth in women’s football ever since.

Fatma Samoura has overseen a complete restructure at FIFA that included the appointment of two Deputy Secretary Generals, a new and fully developed Women’s Football Division, a Technical Development Division, a Chief Compliance Officer, and improved programmes for FIFA’s 211 member associations.

She arrived at FIFA with more than two decades of experience working for the United Nations where she served in seven countries: the Republic of Djibouti, Cameroon, Chad, Guinea, Niger, Madagascar and Nigeria.

Working in places affected by war, violence and a lack of women’s rights, she had often been struck by the way in which football, more than anything else, could persuade warring groups to lay down their weapons and bring joy even to people who were enduring terrible suffering. She realised that football was a universal language.

Players at the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ will enjoy the same conditions and service levels as the men at the FIFA World Cup 2022™ in Qatar. With 32 teams, it will be the biggest and best in the competition’s history, providing a fitting send-off for the FIFA Secretary General when she steps down in December.