Fatma Samoura, the highest ranking woman at FIFA, is attacking football stereotypes in a way that the sport‘s male establishment may find uncomfortable and she has her sights set on the World Cup.

Samoura, a former UN diplomat who became FIFA secretary general and right hand woman to president Gianni Infantino in June, told AFP in an interview that it was demeaning for women’s football to rely on the men’s World Cup for finance.

Samoura said crowds at the women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015 and the women’s African Nations Cup in Cameroon last year proved the need to change emphasis.

“Normally when the women play in Africa, except for finals, there are not even 2,000 spectators. There (in Cameroon) at each match, there were at least 13,000 people. It was extraordinary, ” Samoura said in an interview ahead of international women’s day on Wednesday.

“That shows that women’s football, which was the poor relation in football, is taking on a new dimension and I believe this rise is irreversible.

“Now it is essential to invest in its visibility and attract sponsors to make it an autonomous sport.

“Today, it is the men’s World Cup that finances all the other tournaments. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, with 50 percent of the population made up by women, that we are entirely dependent on one tournament to finance women’s activities.”

– 60 million target –

FIFA now has a department that concentrates on women’s football and federations are set criteria on developing women’s football before they get grants from the world body. 

“This is an imperative for the 211 member federations,” Samoura said.

“Our aim is to have 60 million women registered and playing football between now and 2026. That leaves us less than 10 years. It is only through the member federations that we will reach this number.”

FIFA says there are currently about 30 million women who play now. 

Samoura, 55, cut her diplomatic teeth working with the World Food Programme and with refugees in Chad. Becoming the number two official at scandal-tainted FIFA was a completely new challenge. 

“FIFA exists since 1904 and so it took 112 years after its creation for a non-European woman, a Muslim, to take up this post.

“Clearly this is a little bit like a glass ceiling falling.

“For me this is also an opportunity to show the rest of the world that football is opening up and that diversity can be applied to football, including in its upper levels.”

Samoura said she had been accepted with respect at FIFA.

“I come up against obstacles, but not because I am a woman, more because people are not used to upsetting traditions.”

Football’s power brokers know that Samoura came from the UN machinery. “There are also many themes in football that are dear to me,” she added.

“Talking about diversity, inclusion, defending human rights is something I was doing every day for 20 years. Clearly there are still a lot of stereotypes in the world of football, as there is sometimes in politics.

“We need more examples like mine,” said Samoura who said other sports federations should follow FIFA’s example. – Agence France-Presse

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