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Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura named FIFA's first female secretary general

By Matt Slater in Mexico City

Senegalese diplomat Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura has been appointed as FIFA's first female secretary general at the annual congress of world football's governing body in Mexico City.

The 54-year-old Samoura has worked for the United Nations since 1995, having led UN humanitarian efforts in Chad and Nigeria.

Subject to passing an eligibility check, Samoura will replace acting secretary general Markus Katttner in mid-June.

"Fatma is a woman with international experience and vision who has worked on some of the most challenging issues of our time," said new FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

"She has a proven ability to build and lead teams, and improve the way organisations perform.

"Importantly for FIFA, she also understands that transparency and accountability are at the heart of any well-run and responsible organisation."

Samoura's appointment has already been heralded as an important step towards greater diversity and independent thought by close observers of FIFA politics.

Australia's Moya Dodd, one of only three female members currently on the FIFA Council, has tweeted this is a "landmark day for #womeninFIFA".

"Today is a wonderful day for me, and I am honoured to take on the role of FIFA Secretary General," said Samoura in an official statement.

"I believe this role is a perfect fit for my skills and experience - strategic, high impact team-building in international settings - which I will use to help grow the game of football all over the world.

"I also look forward to bringing my experience in governance and compliance to bear on the important reform work that is already under way"

Samoura's first big test is likely to be leading attempts to encourage Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup, to do more to improve conditions for the migrant workers building the infrastructure needed in the desert state.

Responding to criticism of FIFA's failure to use its influence to encourage reforms in Qatar, Infantino said: "Of course we care about human rights, but these matters aren't solved by threats, they are solved by dialogue."

The appointment of Samoura has been the only major surprise of Infantino's first annual congress as president, as he has tried to reassure the 1,000 delegates who made the trip to Mexico that the worst of FIFA's problems are behind it.

Last year's congress was completely overshadowed by the arrest of dozens of leading officials on bribery and money-laundering charges, and the threat of further arrests remains as investigations into FIFA are ongoing in Switzerland and the US.

Infantino is only in the throne because Sepp Blatter, who was forced to step down days after being elected for a fifth term last year, has been banned from all football activities, along with his protege, and Infantino's former boss at UEFA, Michel Platini.

Earlier this week, Platini failed in an attempt to have his ban squashed by the Court of Arbitration of Sport, news that cast a shadow over the first meeting of Infantino's FIFA Council, the successor body to the discredited ExCo.

Infantino used his presidential address to say that FIFA "has changed and embraced reform" and explain what he has been doing since his election in February.

The 46-year-old Swiss-Italian admitted he had held "delicate conversations" with sponsors but those relations were still strong, and that he had travelled to every continent apart from Oceania to listen to concerns and explain his plans to rebuild trust.

One of those plans is to split FIFA into two parts: a football development arm and a business arm.

Another, which was announced earlier this week, is to have a "bullet-proof" process for selecting the hosts of the 2026 World Cup. This will see four years of consultation and evaluation, before a vote in 2020.

"We have to get it right, so we need to talk," he said.

High on the list for conversation will be his plan to extend the World Cup to 40 teams from the existing 32, and Infantino said those talks have already started with the group of former players he has referred to as FIFA Legends, who played an exhibition match in the Azteca Stadium on Wednesday and were presented again in Thursday's opening ceremony.

How much help the likes of Ronaldinho, Dwight Yorke and Jose Mourinho will be able to offer with FIFA's other problems is open to debate, as the organisation's auditor Roger Neininger explained FIFA still faced existential threats from the criminal investigations.

The financial cost of those investigations was also spelled out by Kattner, who said "a difficult year" had resulted in a loss of £87m last year, much of it on legal fees.

And the legal bill does not look like falling any time soon as the congress opened with votes to suspend Benin and extend Kuwait's suspension, both for alleged government interference.

The latter decision could get very expensive as Kuwait has lodged appeals against its football and Olympic bans with CAS.

A delegation from Kuwait's leading sports clubs has claimed the suspension, which has been in place since September, is "devastating" and is a result of FIFA and IOC power-broker Sheikh Ahmad's personal feud with the Kuwaiti government.

Attempts made to get a response from Sheikh Ahmad have so far been unsuccessful.

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