In an exclusive interview with VOA, the secretary-general of FIFA, Fatma Samoura, talks about preparations for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and on the reform process within the International Federation of Football.
FIFA, football's governing world body, has been mired in claims of corruption since 2015, when the U.S. Justice Department indicted several top executives, including President Sepp Blattner.
The FBI began investigating FIFA after the world body awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, two countries that have come under widespread criticism for their human rights records. The interview is translated from French.
The Confederations Cup, which took place in Russia, was a rehearsal of the 2018 World Cup. Is Russia now ready?
Samoura: "We have every reason to think that it will be ready and that it will offer a fantastic World Cup in 2018. At the Confederations Cup, we saw a fascination from the spectators, no reproaches from the media and from the very well-received teams.
The focus is now on the eight stadiums that are not yet inaugurated. There are stadiums still under construction and hotels but it is not new … We have no worries."
Will Qatar be ready in time for 2022? Is the embargo of neighboring countries worrying you?
Samoura: "The preparations are well advanced since the appointment of 2010. They have 12 years to be ready. The al-Khalifa stadium has already been inaugurated last year and other stadiums are under construction.
"The competition will be compact, where fans will have the opportunity to see several matches per day since all the stadiums are located within a radius of 60 kilometers (37 miles). This World Cup will take place in winter for obvious reasons of high heat in the countries of the Gulf.
"In terms of the diplomatic crisis, things are progressing well and efforts are under way. Five years from the competition, we have no reason to believe that the geopolitical situation will be the same in 2022."
When current FIFA President Gianni Infantino talks about a more transparent allocation process for 2026, what is it?
Samoura: "We are following the recommendations of the John Ruggie report on human rights, transparency and better governance of football. We consulted extensively with the Human Rights Advisory Board; confederations and football have a more lasting legacy of the world’s cuts to future generations."
Morocco will face the United States, Mexico and Canada for the hosting of the 2026 World Cup. What is your opinion on that?
Samoura: "The best wins! The decision will be made in June 2018."
A year ago, in our previous interview, you said that there was a need for "transparent management of resources, people and infrastructure" at FIFA. Did you succeed in your ambition?
Samoura: "It’s a job that’s not done in a day. I’ve been here for less than a year-and-a-half, and the bet of diversity has been won. We are now seven women on the FIFA Council. There was only one before my arrival.
"On management, we now have eight people who are in charge of compliance with the monitoring and use of the funds allocated by FIFA to the 211 federations and the six confederations. In the past, some 40 federations have been audited by FIFA, and we are currently at 76. The aim is to achieve 100 in the near future, which is a more rigorous and strict follow-up."
What is the financial health of FIFA? Should we worry about deficits?
Samoura: "Our financial situation is superb despite a deficit of $369 million for 2016 fiscal year. We are working on four-year cycles and still expect a profit of $100 million at the end of this cycle. In the first three years, we finance competitions and operations, and the generation of resources and revenues is linked to the kick-off of the World Cup.
"We have reserves of more than one billion Swiss francs, which can be used, but it is not relevant …This deficit does not reflect the financial health of the institution."
In Bahrain, Gianni Infantino said the FIFA corruption crisis was over and will never happen again. How can we believe that?
Samoura: "President Infantino is absolutely right, because people who committed misdemeanors at the level of confederations or member associations have been charged and a new leadership has been set up at FIFA.
"The most important thing for us is that reforms ensure that this kind of situation does not happen again, by strengthening our control system."
Is this transparent management undermined by the eviction of Cornel Borbély, head of the Investigation Chamber of the Ethics Commission, and Hans-Joachim Eckert, head of the Ethics Commission's Trial Chamber?
Samoura: "Many members of our commission completed their mandates in May 2017. Some members had their mandates renewed by the Congress. Other members arrived with a view to greater geographical representativeness and male parity.
"The current president of the Chamber, Maria Claudia Rojas, is the former president of the Court of Justice in Colombia and her competencies cannot be doubted."
Your detractors present you as without experience in football. What do you say to them?
Samoura: "I was recruited because I am a competent woman, and I run an administration that is no different from crisis management in the United Nations system.
"The objective was clear: to recruit someone who is not part of the football family, who has experience in reform and governance and who could bring diversity and transparency and put the human aspect at the center of decisions of FIFA. That’s what I do on a day-to-day basis."