FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura was the headline speaker at this year’s Africa Women’s Sports Summit, held virtually today from Accra, Ghana. The summit, which also featured Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) President Isha Johansen and Nigerian Women’s Football League (NWFL) Chair Aisha Falode, focused on sports leadership under the theme of shifting mindsets.
Samoura, who joined FIFA in 2016 as its first-ever female and African Secretary General, provided practical and strategic advice to the audience following the webinar from around the world, emphasising that aspiring female sports leaders from the African continent and beyond should have strong self-belief.
“Don’t underestimate yourself,” she said. “Believe in yourself – when you are called upon to lead it is because you have the skills.
“I believe in hard work. One thing I have learnt is that the men won’t do you a favour just because you are a woman. Be resilient, innovative and have personal values.”
The FIFA Secretary General, who was appointed by FIFA and CAF as the FIFA General Delegate for Africa for six months last year (1 August 2019 to 31 January 2020) to help accelerate the implementation of CAF’s reform process, also spoke about her love for African football and her dream to see the continent reach the highest echelons of the global game.
“I am a firm believer that African football can give a lot to the world,” she said. “I believe the next major shift in mindset (apart from perception of women in sports) has to be about the perception of African football. I want to see Africa at the top of world football. I dream of seeing African nations in the final stages of the FIFA World Cup.”
The FIFA Secretary General’s keynote speech was followed by an address by Isha Johansen, who spoke about the challenges women face working in the football industry and how to overcome them, as well as the importance of being resilient.
“Before I became Sierra Leone FA President I was a founder of a football club,” she said. “I did not experience sexism, abuse and discrimination in that role so it was new to me when it became glaring in my new role…I learnt not to be thin-skinned.”
Other speakers at the event, moderated by Ghanaian journalist Miriam Osei Agyemang and Nigerian journalist Chisom Mbonu Ezeoke, were Lerina Bright, founder of Mission 89, an anti-sports trafficking awareness organisation based in Switzerland, and Linda Ansong, the first female CEO of a Ghanaian top-flight football club (Liberty Professionals).
The President of the Ghana Football Association (GFA) Kurt E.S Okraku joined the summit as its only male speaker and called out “sports – notably football –…being skewed against women pursuing them.”. He also used his voice to highlight that: “The playing field has not always been levelled…It’s been a big learning curve listening to our dear ones at the forefront of the battle for the inclusion of women in sports leadership.”
Aisha Falode addressed the audience on the importance of character and consistency, drawing from her own experience in Nigerian football she emphasised the key role of leadership: “Leadership simply means leading a group of people in achieving a certain goal. Always remember that leadership, it’s all about the people.”
The FIFA Secretary General referred to the role she can play as a leader in shifting mindsets on issues such as racism and discrimination during her keynote speech and in a question and answer session that followed it. Speaking about the continued existence of racism she said: “I am proud to have been able to use my platform to highlight the injustices suffered by many of our black brothers and sisters in America following the shooting of George Floyd. Let me take this opportunity to say that Black Lives Matter everywhere.”
She added: “It is unfortunate that racism is still present today in sport and with the support of the FIFA President I picked up this fight. A sport as diverse as football should never see anyone suffering on the pitch because of skin colour, so in 2017 FIFA introduced a three step procedure to combat discrimination at our competitions to pursue a zero-tolerance policy towards racist and discriminatory incidents in football and to severally punish such behaviour. Racism should be nowhere in society.”
The Africa Women’s Sports Summit was founded by award-winning Ghanaian broadcaster Juliet Bawuah in 2019. Bawuah who is the Group Head of Sports at Ghana’s leading media conglomerate Media General, said that the summit is: “Dedicated to greater female inclusion in the African sports ecosystem.”