Friday 10 November 2023, 22:00

FIFA Secretary General calls for investment in African football at AWIEF awards

  • Fatma Samoura receives the inaugural Africa Women Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF) Lifetime Leadership Award in Rwanda

  • Tells delegates to invest in African football to develop "untapped potential"

  • Says FIFA has ‘transformed women's football’ in recent years

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura has received the inaugural Africa Women Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF) Lifetime Leadership Award at a ceremony in Kigali, Rwanda, where she urged delegates to "invest in African football" and develop the "huge untapped potential" of the continent. The AWIEF Conference and Awards brings together leaders, policymakers, development partners and stakeholders from across Africa and beyond to discuss the specific challenges the continent faces, and come up with solutions to them.

The event in the Rwandan capital, which staged the most recent FIFA Congress in March this year, was attended by 500 participants from 45 countries, including 35 in Africa, and they heard Ms Samoura call on them to take advantage of the unifying power of football to improve African lives. "There is still a long way to go and huge untapped potential, especially in African football. So, my final message to you is: invest in African football. Take advantage of the chances that FIFA has created in the last few years, by funding development and increasing African representation at the FIFA World Cup, for both men and women,” she said. "So, start investing and developing now. Let's continue our work to leave a lasting legacy for generations to come."

Africa Women Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum

The Senegal-born Ms Samoura spent two decades with United Nations (UN) agencies before joining FIFA in 2016, becoming the organisation's first female, first African and first Muslim Secretary General in its history. Since helping set up FIFA's Women's Football Division shortly after her appointment, Ms Samoura has - along with FIFA President Gianni Infantino and colleagues - been a driving force in developing the game for women and girls around the world. This culminated in the biggest and best FIFA Women's World Cup™ ever earlier this year. The tournament, which was expanded to 32 teams and saw an unprecedented near-two million fans attend games, will provide further impetus to FIFA's work on achieving their goal of 60 million girls and women around the world playing organised football by 2026.

"This award is not just for me, but all the people who have dedicated their lives to our game and helped us transform women’s football over the last few years. They have created a beautiful legacy – a FIFA that is focused on football and is respected by international organisations, and a sport that captures the hearts and minds of boys and girls around the world and brings them joy and happiness," said Ms Samoura. "We have given more girls and women the chance to play football, even in countries where it would have been considered almost impossible only a few years ago." The evolving role of women in football and society, as well as the hurdles Ms Samoura cleared en route to becoming FIFA Secretary General were among the themes discussed with renowned Ugandan sports journalist Darren Allen Kyeune during an hour-long Q&A session she also had at the event.

After more than seven years at FIFA, Ms Samoura announced earlier this year she would be stepping down from her role. While she leaves behind a trail-blazing legacy at the organisation and within football, she said her tenure as Secretary General has also had a lasting impact on her. "There were a lot of raised eyebrows when I joined FIFA in 2016, both in the world of football, where many wondered who I was and what I could do for the world’s most popular game, and among people who know me, who could not understand why I would leave the United Nations after 21 years and take a trip into the unknown," she explained. "But it was the best decision of my life. I am very proud to have played a part in making FIFA a more diverse and open organisation, and to have led such a great team."