New FIFA secretary general vows to improve game's 'tarnished image'

Fatma Samoura, named as secretary general of FIFA on May 13, 2016, comes from outside the football world, having worked with the United Nations for 21 years (AFP Photo/Stephane De Sakutin)

Paris (AFP) - FIFA's new secretary general Fatma Samoura on Saturday vowed "to help football restore its tarnished image" following a spate of scandals within the game's world governing body.

"My goal is to support the programme of president Gianni (Infantino) and to help football restore its tarnished image," the Senegalese UN diplomat, named Friday as FIFA's first ever female secretary general, told AFP.

"And to those who speak of my lack of experience, I say give me the time to prove myself," she added in a telephone interview from Abuja, Nigeria, where she is representing the United Nations Development Programme at a summit to discuss efforts to defeat Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

"FIFA is the United Nations of football and I bring 21 years of experience in the private sector and the UN in terms of good governance and transparency, and the obligation to make the different federations and FIFA accountable," added the 54-year-old.

"We must try to restore football to what it was, the most popular sport that breaches social divides.

"And one of the things I am going to try to do is bring greater support to women's football."

Samoura, who was named as the successor to the disgraced Jerome Valcke at a FIFA congress in Mexico on Friday, will take her post by mid-June after undergoing an eligibility check administered by an independent review committee.

She said she met Infantino, who was appointed as the successor to Sepp Blatter in February, for the first time in November last year.

"I was in Madagascar at the time and it was during a match between Madagascar and Senegal," in a qualifier for the 2018 World Cup, she said.

"But we did not speak at all about the secretary general post. At the time he was not yet a candidate for the FIFA presidency and was preparing Michel Platini's campaign.

"After dinner somebody told me about what he had said. And Gianni Infantino had apparently said: 'If one day I am president of FIFA this is my secretary general'.

"When he was elected it was me who went to talk to him. I sent him a mail and he called me. He then offered the post to me. But I had just arrived here (in Nigeria), in a country where a lot of challenges await me.

"He made me an offer and he convinced me!"

Other observers agree that Infantino's decision to appoint Samoura represents a coup in terms of good publicity.

"She will not be there to make him look good, she is not a gimmick. She will be loyal to Gianni Infantino but she will change things," Francis Kpatinde, a close friend of Samoura and a former editor of the weekly Jeune Afrique, told AFP.

"This is not a puppet who has been put in there."