Four weeks before the start of the Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, FIFA announced the departure of long-time General Secretary Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura. The 60-year-old Senegalese, socialised professionally in the United Nations empire, will leave FIFA at the end of this year. The timing of this separation is suboptimal, of course. At first glance, the matter seems clear: another woman cast out by the machos in the football business.
But there is no scandal behind it. Samoura was simply the wrong woman in the wrong place. When she became active, she didn't act any differently than Gianni Infantino and all the other guys at the top of FIFA.
At most, the signing of Samoura in 2016 and her performance since then had scandal potential.
Normally, one would expect a highly professional selection process from a globally operating institution like FIFA: only the best of the best should lead the billion-dollar corporation based in Zurich. But of course there was no such recruitment process at the time.
Instead, the newly elected FIFA President Gianni Infantino surprised everyone at the time with the appointment. A woman with no experience whatsoever in football was suddenly supposed to run the day-to-day business of a global corporation that now employs 850 people. There were many benevolent headlines about the first African woman at the top of the FIFA administration - and Infantino was able to set up his real system of rule. FIFA presidents should no longer officially determine the day-to-day business, but rather: preside.
Infantino, however, did not care. He did what he wanted.
APO, a company that has over the years received considerable money from FIFA, while run by Samoura, has decided to award the inaugural World Football Summit Lifetime Achievement Award, to … Fatma Samoura. pic.twitter.com/8LYjRH25Vu— tariq panja (@tariqpanja) September 20, 2023
Samoura stands for the old system
A man in Samoura's place would probably have been called figurehead. But what do you call a woman who was installed as part of a large-scale deception? As a head of administration who doesn't really have anything to say and ultimately only carries out what Infantino orders?
Of course, there would have been several suitable female candidates for this top position in the football business. There have been outstanding female football officials for at least three decades, long before the Norwegian Lise Klaveness, who has been making headlines for some time now for standing up to the machos with courage, verve and skill. But that was not the point of installing Samoura. It was all about Infantino wanting to give the public a false image.
In terms of content, women like Samoura and Klaveness are worlds apart.
Samoura stands for intransparency and nepotism like in the old days. On behalf of Infantino, she had her shares in the dismissal of FIFA's former ethics chief and governance chief Miguel Poiares Maduro. Those, in other words, who stood up to the system to some extent.
In the meantime, from 2019, Infantino had sent his general secretary to Cairo for many months, where she was to transform the scandal-ridden and dysfunctional Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF) into a model association and also enforce Infantino's will. She was not missed in Zurich, the Home of FIFA. After three years of Samoura's will-o'-the-wisp, after the first scandals, many FIFA officials liked the fact that the boss was in Africa. She could do less mischief there.
In Zurich, the two deputy general secretaries Alasdair Bell and Mattias Grafström established themselves as the real bosses - alongside Infantino, of course.
In contrast to Samoura, the Briton Bell and the Swede Grafström have been real confidants of Infantino for many years. Bell was already when Infantino was still in charge of the UEFA administration, before he miraculously evolved into a FIFA presidential candidate in the legendary summer of 2015, with the help of the Swiss judiciary. Grafström started at FIFA as Infantino's office manager and as such was involved in dubious dealings. When Infantino then moved to Doha less than a year before the 2022 Men's World Cup, FIFA policy was of course not made in Zurich by Samoura, but in Doha by Infantino.
Worst FIFA head of administration? Linsi or Selfie-Fatma?
FIFA was founded in 1904. Since then, there have been nine general secretaries, one interim head of administration - and number eleven, a female general secretary. Long-time FIFA employees are certain that only Fatma Samoura and the Swiss Urs Linsi can be considered for the unofficial title of worst general secretary in FIFA history.
A former banker, Linsi dabbled under the all-powerful President Joseph Blatter from 2002 to 2007. Among Linsi's many breathtakingly helpless performances was the episode in September 2005 when, at a meeting in Marrakech, he despaired of explaining the regulations for a two-team draw. It was just a matter of drawing lots for the World Cup play-offs to determine which team would have home rights in the first match: Australia or Uruguay.
Linsi failed in the task.
I will never forget this absurd situation. I had written about it from Marrakech at the time - some people at the Home of FIFA read the text to each other, laughing uproariously. Linsi was a joke - but he acted brutally.
After President Blatter, who was sitting next to him, had first celebrated for a while and amused himself at his Secretary General's incompetence, he rescued the clumsy man and explained the procedure himself.
It is not known whether Samoura would have been able to carry out such a simple task.
We don't know, above all, because Infantino has made his General Secretary appear less and less often on such occasions. Samoura hardly played a supporting role at major FIFA events. The fact that she was actually present, for example at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, was mainly revealed to the public via her Twitter account.
In terms of content, Samoura left traces there alone:
In the history of FIFA, there is no other executive who has published so many selfies. This record remains.
Evidence of any lasting positive effect of her seven years of service has not yet been found. What is known for certain is that Fatma Samoura has collected more than 10 million Euros in salary and bonuses over the years. She also has that in common with Urs Linsi. Blatter even gave him a severance package of seven million. Hush money.
Samoura's departure on 31 December 2023 will certainly be sweetened, even if it is only part of the enormous sum that Linsi once received for his dismissal. Whether Samoura gets one or two million on top of the ten million he has received so far is almost irrelevant in a billion-dollar corporation like FIFA. By way of comparison, from 2015, when the American judiciary threatened to dismantle the criminal FIFA system, the world governing body paid ten million a month to lawyers and lobbyists for more than a year to avoid being declared a criminal organisation under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
But perhaps one has to look at the investment in Samoura in a completely different way: Certainly, the staffing of the African FIFA general secretary had the hoped-for effect in some parts of the world. Pure PR, a deceptive manoeuvre.
From Infantino's point of view, it was ten million well invested.
The highlight of Fatma Samoura's work?
"I love you, president!"
Have a look:
Fatma Samoura has announced that she wants to take more care of her family in the future. No one has to believe that. It is more likely that in the not too distant future she will return as CAF President or in another position and join the FIFA Council.
She has taken a liking to the glamour, as so many before her. The show-biz, the princely salary, the backroom deals. That makes her very different from women like Lise Klaveness, who want to blow up this broken system.