— Published 15 June 2023

Fatma Samoura, a threat averted

A new page will soon be turned at FIFA. The organization’s General Secretary, Senegalese Fatma Samoura (pictured above), will be handing over the keys to her office in Zurich. She will step down at the end of the year.

FIFA announced this in a press release on Wednesday June 14. The official reason: the desire of the body’s number 2, who went down in history as the first woman – and the first non-European – to accede to such a position, to devote “more time to (her) family.” Fatma Samoura, 60, is the mother of three children.

Her resignation was due to be announced at a FIFA Council meeting next week. However, Fatma Samoura decided to pre-empt the rumours and speculation surrounding her departure.

FIFA has given no details of his succession to the post of General Secretary, but the name of Mattias Grafström, the Swede who is currently Deputy General Secretary, has been mentioned. He ticks several boxes, the most important of which is his proximity to Gianni Infantino.

Women’s soccer will have reached new heights under her leadership“, suggested the body in a highly complimentary statement on the seven years spent by the Senegalese under the often overwhelming shadow of Gianni Infantino.

Joining FIFA was the best decision I’ve made in my life, she commented. I’m delighted to have led such a diverse team. Today, our body is better managed, more open, more reliable and more transparent.”

So much for the kind words, always elegantly chosen in such circumstances. But they do not obviate the question: why such a departure?

Let’s take a look back. In 2016, before her arrival at FIFA, Fatma Samoura’s name was completely unknown in soccer circles. The Senegalese had spent most of her career as a diplomat with the United Nations, working as a humanitarian coordinator in several African countries, including Djibouti, Cameroon, Chad, Guinea, Madagascar and Nigeria.

According to several sources, Gianni Infantino was approached by Ahmad Ahmad, the disgraced former president of the Confederation of African Football (CAF). The former Madagascan leader is said to have introduced them at a banquet held at his home in Antananarivo.

Fatma Samoura, who is quadrilingual and far removed from the world of soccer, was appointed to FIFA in 2016, in the wake of Gianni Infantino’s election as President. To the most skeptical, who were quick to assure that his choice was above all “a publicity stunt“, the Italo-Swiss then patiently insisted on the leader’s “international experience and vision“. He justified his decision by saying that FIFA needed to “open up to new perspectives, outside the traditional pool.”

But in recent months, the Infantino/Samoura ticket has lost some of its lustre. This is due to tensions at CAF, where the current president, South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe, is struggling to assert his leadership despite the strong support of Gianni Infantino.

According to several sources, the FIFA President is already preparing the ground for his successor. He has even found the ideal candidate, Mauritanian Ahmed Yahya, a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in the fishing industry.

Fatma Samoura is also interested in the CAF presidency. The Senegalese is said to have even advanced her plans to form a partnership with her compatriot Augustin Senghor, the current President of the Senegalese Football Federation.

Problem: such a pairing could represent a real danger for Gianni Infantino, and for the power he intends to retain over African soccer. Fatma Samoura soon to be removed from FIFA, the threat recedes.