As FIFA and the football world mobilise all their efforts to fight COVID-19, the pandemic continues to claim countless lives around the world. This Monday 31 March 2020 the name of Pape Diouf was added to this growing list. An emblematic figure on the French and African football landscapes, the former president of Olympique de Marseille died at the age of 68 in a Dakar hospital, where he was being treated for the coronavirus.
Diouf, who was born in Chad but held French and Senegalese citizenship, had an immense knowledge of the game after a diverse career that included spells as a sports journalist, football agent and president of Marseille – the latter from 2005 to 2009. Renowned for his immense culture and perfect command of the French language, he earned the affection and respect of the footballing world through his strength of character, personality, and exceptional leadership qualities – all while retaining a deeply human touch.
Unsurprisingly, tributes poured in on news of his passing. Jacques-Henri Eyraud, the current Marseille president, Jean-Michel Aulas, his Lyon counterpart, Noel Le Graet, president of the French Football Federation, all the clubs of France, as well as many current and former players, coaches, managers and consultants all expressed their sadness and paid tribute to Diouf.
In April 2009, he visited FIFA Headquarters, where he discussed many of the issues closest to his heart, including the fight against racism. Eleven years later, FIFA President Gianni Infantino expressed his deep sadness at the news of his death: "He was a man of great heart, approachable and open to dialogue, likeable and caring, a recipient of the Legion of Honour medal, a fine connoisseur of football, and someone held in high esteem by players and fans.
"Pape Diouf has left his mark on the history of Olympique de Marseille," he wrote in a letter to the club president. "He will forever remain one of the most important people in the club's history. He will not be forgotten and will be greatly missed by all of us.
"On behalf of the international football community, I would like to express our deepest sympathy to Olympique de Marseille, as well as to the family and friends of Pape Diouf and those closest to him. Our thoughts are with you all,” he concluded.