On Monday 6 March 2017, two days before International Women’s Day, FIFA hosted its third Conference for Equality and Inclusion. FIFA’s first female Secretary General, Fatma Samoura, closed proceedings at the Home of FIFA with a rousing speech.
“As the world governing body of the planet’s most popular sport, we represent millions of people, regardless of gender, origin, social status or religious belief. We must be human – full stop ,” said the former United Nations Coordinator, who was born in Senegal.
“Diversity is the only way forward,” Samoura added. “Not only because morally it is the right thing to do, but because there is richness in it. The group of people in this conference today is a solid example of this. It is a beautiful representation of what the whole world should be and what football can and should represent. And for that we do not need words, but actions.”
The 54-year-old sat down with FIFA.com after the event to elaborate on her views on women in football and the role that FIFA can play in fighting inequality.
FIFA.com: Why are events like this important?
Fatma Samoura: Because [holding them] is the right thing to do. We are in a world composed of both men and women, and no society can thrive while alienating 50 per cent of its population. Football is a sport with a global reach that can bring men and women together. So for FIFA to organise this conference shows that we are embracing reform and putting women at the centre of everything we do in football. Gender equality is about empowering women and allowing them to be self-expressive and tell the rest of the world that a conservative society is not the way to go when you want to promote sport.
How do you assess FIFA’s progress in promoting women’s football?
We have started planting the seeds, and what we witnessed at the last FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada and the enthusiasm for the next World Cup in France gives me the impression that football is definitely the right tool for social change. Any society that tries to implement sustainable changes for a more inclusive world can do that more with football. With football we can achieve greater changes in record time.
Do you see yourself as a role model in the process?
My appointment as FIFA Secretary General shows that the world of football is embracing diversity at the highest levels of its hierarchy. But it is definitely not just my appointment that will change the perception, which is held by the majority of people, that football is a male-dominated game. We need to see the same changes at confederation, member association and community level. Giving the opportunity to young girls to even practice football gives them an opportunity to eventually seize or embrace a career in football. I definitely consider myself lucky to occupy this number two position at FIFA. I just hope my example will inspire other football leagues and confederations and member associations.
What is your main feeling coming out of the conference, heading into International Women’s Day?
I was pleasantly surprised to see the enthusiasm among the people who attended. There were both men and women very much into the subject, showing that the development of women’s football is not only a problem for women in general, but a problem for society to tackle. We heard some very inspiring stories, where through football people were able to redress some dysfunction in society, which in some cases was at their own cost. It showed that women can send a message to the rest of the world using sport.