International Women's Day

Challenge yourself and dream big, says FIFA Secretary General on #IWD2021

Fatma Samoura.
© Getty Images
  • Fatma Samoura is FIFA Secretary General
  • She is the first Muslim, African and woman to hold that influential position
  • Samoura spoke to us on International Women's Day and gave her #ChooseToChallenge message

Fatma Samoura spent 21 years working on high level United Nations (UN) programmes in Italy, the Republic of Djibouti, Cameroon, Chad, Guinea, Niger, Madagascar, Nigeria, Central America and Central West Asia before joining FIFA in May 2016.

As the first Muslim, African and woman to hold the position of FIFA Secretary General, she is a trailblazer for diversity and gender equality.

Since her appointment at FIFA the number of women employed by the organisation has increased across the board including in senior management roles. She played an integral part in the success of the record-breaking FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 and the highly successful eighth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019.

Fatma Samoura is committed to using the unique power of football to support, encourage and empower people around the world. International Women’s Day aims to celebrate the achievements of women across the globe.

What women have inspired or motivated you the most?

The women who have inspired and motivated me in my life have been the female leaders of my family: my mother and grandmother. They were very different women, living in different times, but were each deeply committed to our family and ensuring that everyone in it reached his/her full potential.

My grandma became a widow at a very young age and refused to follow the custom of remarrying to someone picked by her family. Instead she focused on looking after her ten children and ensured they received a proper education.

My dad was an army official and was seldom at home, so my mom invested all her energy in securing better lives and careers for her nine children.

Their commitment, devotion, encouragement and teachings have helped me to become the person I am today and I am extremely grateful for the values of independence, tenacity and abnegation they instilled in me from an early age growing up in Senegal.

Gianni Infantino and Fatma Samoura present the FIFA Women's World Cup trophy.
© Getty Images

As one of the highest ranking officials in football, how do approach your role as FIFA Secretary General and as a leading voice to inspire women and girls around the world?

I would say that firstly I am very privileged and honoured to have girls and women look up to me. It is also a huge honour and a privilege to hold the position of FIFA Secretary General, and being the highest ranking woman at FIFA and in football. However, I am aware though of the tremendous responsibility this places upon me as a representative for women, which is something I take very seriously.

I recognise that being the first woman and African to hold this position at FIFA is a game-changer and I want to inspire other women via my actions. I try to use my voice when and where appropriate to support important causes and people in need.

Before joining FIFA, I had worked for 21 years in the humanitarian field and I had seen the best and the worst of humanity. I had travelled extensively and experienced things that I will never forget, for better and for worse, but I had also seen the power of football to unite inspire and empower people, especially women.

When I was approached by the FIFA President to join the organisation in 2016 I felt that FIFA was at a turning point in its history on many levels and as the first-ever woman to take on the role of Secretary General I could really make a difference.

You have been in sports leadership for a while now. What are some of the core values every leader in sports, or other industries, should know?

I think leaders in any field should know that leading by example is extremely important and you can’t get the best out of people if you are not giving your best. You have to remain committed, even if it is not always easy, and be prepared to guide people through difficult moments as well as celebrating the great ones!

Be humble and be able to interact with people no matter what their social or professional status. Don’t forget that your family and friends are as important as work. Nourish those relationships and you will bring renewed energy and enthusiasm into your professional life.

Fatma Samoura at The Best FIFA Football Awards.

FIFA has made several important steps to developing women in football over recent years. For you, what have been the most significant steps FIFA has made in this area? What steps is FIFA taking to encourage diversity and inclusion, and to end discrimination, in football?

Gender equality, diversity and inclusion, women’s football and developing women in senior leadership positions are all key areas for FIFA and something we are taking seriously.

Indeed, one of our main objectives is to work together with a wide range of organisations, both in sport and in wider society, to ensure that football, the world’s most popular sport, can lead the way in diversity, anti-discrimination and respect.

Following the outstanding success of France 2019 and the incredible platform this created to inspire women and girls around the world, FIFA has gone even further and taken a number of important steps over the last 12 months, further underlining our commitment to developing women, and the women’s game, on and off the pitch.

As well as launching the Women’s Development Programme and passing landmark maternity reforms to protect female players, FIFA is also providing USD 500,000 for every member association as part of the COVID-19 Relief Plan to specifically support women’s football from the financial impacts of the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic on football cannot be underestimated and this support will go a long way to ensure we can continue the momentum of France 2019 towards the next FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023.

Furthermore, FIFA also continues to run a wide range of initiatives across different divisions, including Women’s Football, the FIFA Foundation as well as development programmes led by our Member Associations Division to support women. All this is in addition to the USD 1 billion investment to develop women’s football budgeted from 2019-2022.

In terms of FIFA staff, amongst 63 nationalities, we are 42 per cent women and 58 per cent men, so positive steps are being made here.

We also run various initiatives to support professional development for staff, including the FIFA Women’s Network, a family network as well as informal mentoring.

Fatma Samoura, Joyce Cook and Sarai Bareman.

Finally, this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge. What would be your advice or message to football, and women and girls around the world?

Remember in this age of social media that comparison is the thief of joy - never compare yourself to anyone because there is nobody like you!

Instead, remember that the more you learn, the more you choose to challenge yourself, the more you become innovative, adaptive and engaged in something, the more the future for all of us looks bright and equal!

My other piece of advice to women and girls is also know what you want and go for it! Have a plan and stick to it. Become the best in your field, be confident and be proud. Believe in yourself. And most importantly dream and DREAM BIG!

This article is part of our series focused on women’s football, and women in football, to celebrate International Women’s Day 2021. To find out more about FIFA’s Women’s Football Strategy and Development Programmes, and to read more articles like this, click here.