Tuesday 19 September 2023, 22:00

FIFA Secretary General receives prestigious Lifetime Achievement award from WFS

  • Fatma Samoura honoured with the inaugural World Football Summit (WFS) Lifetime Achievement Award

  • Speaks about impact women's football in particular can have on social change

  • Vows to continue working for gender and economic equality after stepping down at end of 2023

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura has received the inaugural World Football Summit (WFS) Lifetime Achievement Award at the organisation's 2023 gathering in Seville, Spain.

Ms. Samoura was the first woman, the first non-European and the first Muslim to be appointed FIFA Secretary General when she stepped into the role in 2016, ending over two decades of work with the United Nations.

Since, she has helped oversee significant institutional changes at FIFA, rebuilding faith in its financial transparency in particular, while also being a leading advocate along with FIFA President Gianni Infantino of giving women their rightful place in football.

The recent FIFA Women's World Cup 2023™ was the biggest yet with nearly two million fans flocking to stadiums to see matches, and a further estimated two billion watching from home, both significant increases on the 2019 edition, as was the amount of prize money on offer to participating nations.

Sitting alongside Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus at a Q&A panel event at WFS Europe, Ms. Samoura emphasised just how powerful women's football can be in effecting social change.

"When women play football, the impact in society is immediate," the Secretary General told the 2,500 delegates, who comprise football and industry leaders gathered with the aim of reimagining the global football industry.

"Those girls are looked up to as role models, they come and contribute to their communities and it’s the best way for FIFA to pass on messages. And that’s what we have been doing in many countries, including in countries that are marred by gender-based violence."

Ms. Samoura highlighted the example of Morocco to illustrate just how rapid the pace of social change can be when a nation's political forces combine with the determination of FIFA.

"I always use the example of Morocco as something that people should learn from. As we said, you need political will to make things happen. And Morocco definitely has this political will to promote women’s football.

"When I was in Morocco during the time of COVID[-19] – it was not long ago – there was hardly any women’s football. There was none. They had never even participated at any Women’s Africa Cup of Nations. This year, we’ve seen the progress," she said, referring to how Morocco reached the knockout stages on their FIFA Women's World Cup debut earlier this year.

"It was the first Arab country to participate at a Women’s World Cup and go to the knockout phase; it means that nothing is impossible. I’m sure in 2027, there will be more. If you have the will, and the President of the Federation is a very active defender and promoter of women’s football,and I say the same with the ruler of the country, then you’ve seen the result. I really hope that, as we’ve said, when we motivate competition, especially by pushing women to surpass theboundaries that are established by society, the competition becomes healthy."

The Secretary General, who was born in Senegal, also cited numerous examples of how football can unite the world that she had witnessed even before joining FIFA, noting how warring factions in Africa would lay down their weapons due to on-pitch success.

She is due to step down from her post at the end of the year, but there are no plans to retire nor rest on her laurels. Despite the Lifetime Achievement award, the Secretary General sees her work continuing.

"Social justice is really my hobby now and I would like to use the power and my position to really make people feel that they are part of one society," she explained. "We cannot continue living in a world where disparities between genders are becoming bigger and bigger, but even disparities within the same countries are becoming bigger and bigger. 

"People are becoming increasingly rich, while the majority of the poor are fighting to survive and, definitely, the protection of the environment to leave our children a healthier planet is something also that should matter."