FIFA’s corruption crisis was declared to be over by President Gianni Infantino on Friday as the scandal-battered governing body broke new ground by appointing its first female and first non-European secretary general.
Senegalese United Nations official Fatma Samoura has no experience working in sports but Infantino hopes she can help FIFA improve its image and regain its credibility after far-reaching corruption, bribery, and financial crimes by executives.
“Nobody can change the past but I can shape the future,” Infantino told his first FIFA Congress as president since succeeding the banned Sepp Blatter. “FIFA is back on track. So I can officially inform you here, the crisis is over.”
Blatter also said in December 2014 that “the crisis has stopped” after previous bribery cases. But within a year 42 officials and entities linked to soccer were indicted in an American investigation into bribery and fraud.
Samoura is set to replace Jerome Valcke, who was fired by FIFA and banned from soccer for 12 years over a ticketing and TV rights scandal as well as expenses abuses. Blatter was also forced out of the presidency in disgrace over financial misconduct and is now serving a six-year ban imposed by the organization’s independent judiciary.
But in an expected move, Infantino effectively seized control of the disciplinary organs put in place by Blatter. The congress handed over power to the ruling council, which is headed by Infantino, to dismiss ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, investigator Cornel Borbely and audit and compliance head Domenico Scala. The three men would not comment on the changes.
“It is the old model,” FIFA anti-corruption adviser Mark Pieth said. “We desperately want to go beyond that now.”
Infantino defended the move, insisting it was just to provide “flexibility” for the council for the next year “to dismiss and appoint members if the council feels it is needed.”
Infantino has appointed the new secretary general to serve under him without an open recruitment process.
In a shakeup of FIFA designed by a reforms panel in the wake of the body’s recent scandals, a separation of powers is being implemented that is intended to hand the CEO-like secretary general control of business operations.
Samoura speaks French, English, Spanish, and Italian but appears to have no experience dealing with commercial deals and broadcasters — a key part of the job as FIFA’s top administrator. Infantino appears to have more experience in those areas, given he was elected FIFA president in February after nine years leading UEFA’s business operations as general secretary.
The 54-year-old Samoura’s private sector experience was working for an industrial chemicals company from 1987 to 1995.
“I don’t know her at all but I think it’s a very important gesture toward gender equity, to recognizing other continents, and apparently she is a formidable personality,” said Francois Carrard, who headed the reforms committee last year.
Asked about Samoura’s lack of business experience, Carrard said: “The operations will be done by the whole management.”
Infantino assured FIFA delegates that Samoura is used to “managing big organizations, big budgets, human resources, finance.”
The 54-year-old Samoura, who is yet to pass FIFA’s eligibility check, is currently working in development for the U.N. in Nigeria.
“She will bring a fresh wind to FIFA,” Infantino said. “Somebody from outside, not somebody from inside, not somebody from the past. Somebody new, somebody who can help us do the right thing in the future.”
FIFA expects Samoura to start work at its Zurich headquarters in mid-June, with just a year until Russia hosts the Confederations Cup, the 2018 World Cup warm-up event, and with concerns continuing about preparations for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.
The organization swelled to 211 members on Friday after Gibraltar and Kosovo were admitted in time for European qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
They are eligible for FIFA grants for development projects that have now climbed from $400,000 per year for each member association to $1.25 million. The announcement was cheered in the congress hall in Mexico City before Infantino warned them: “Don’t betray us. Don’t misuse the money.”
Two former world players of the year — Portugal’s Luis Figo and American World Cup winner Mia Hamm — have joined the development committee as independent members.
As Infantino gives more FIFA roles to stars of the game, former Chelsea and Ivory Coast forward Didier Drogba was appointed to the footballer stakeholder committee.
Also at the congress, Indonesian national and club teams, referees, and officials were allowed back into international soccer after the country’s FIFA ban was lifted.
Indonesia was readmitted after the government agreed to end its suspension of the soccer federation, but the national team has missed out on qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup while banned.
Benin joined Kuwait in being suspended due to government interference in their federations’ independence.