Rift grows over FIFA placing Samoura in Africa clean-up role

FIFA and Europe are in another rift, this one over the hasty decision to send secretary general Fatma Samoura to lead an attempted clean-up of the scandal-plagued African confederation.

In an unprecedented move, Samoura is due to move to Cairo as FIFA General Delegate for Africa for an initial six-month period starting in August to lead what is described as a “full forensic audit” of the Confederation of African Football.

FIFA did not make Samoura available for comment Thursday or explain why CAF President Ahmad of Madagascar, who goes by one name, remains in power despite an ongoing ethics investigation. He has been accused of sexual harassment and bribery, as well as personal and financial impropriety.

The remarkable intervention by FIFA into one of its six confederations appeared to be promoted by Ahmad. But FIFA President Gianni Infantino failed to gain complete backing for Samoura’s shift from Zurich to Cairo from all regional confederation leaders who form the FIFA bureau.

In a letter seen by The Associated Press, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin told Infantino he opposed Samoura’s appointment over concerns about conflicts of interests with her remaining FIFA secretary general while assigned to Cairo. Ceferin also complained of the lack of time given for UEFA to consider approval and for FIFA’s failure to provide in writing that the CAF executive committee approved of Samoura’s appointment.

Ceferin wrote to Infantino “never in the history of our institutions has the FIFA secretary general, who under the FIFA’s statutes leads the organization, been” sent to lead a confederation “even with the latter’s consent.”

Ceferin has clashed with Infantino over FIFA’s desire to create new international competitions. He said notification of the proposal was only received at 1:50 a.m. Thursday and a response was sought by 10:30 a.m.

Ceferin feared Infantino was trying to turn the FIFA bureau into a “mere rubber stamp function.”

CAF Vice-President Amaju Pinnick said Ceferin’s comments were a sign “he doesn’t have respect for Africa.”

Samoura, a Senegalese former United Nations official, was appointed FIFA’s first female secretary general in 2016 after Infantino became FIFA’s president.

Samoura has played little public role in the biggest decisions in world football over the last three years, despite having the biggest staff at FIFA under her command and a title that usually is among the most powerful roles in sports.

Samoura has not appeared at news conferences after meetings of the FIFA congress and council. Infantino, a former UEFA general secretary, has become the face of FIFA.

FIFA has not explained how it is able to lose the head of its administration for a role at a confederation, especially following Zvonimir Boban’s decision last week to resign as deputy secretary general for football matters in order to take a job with AC Milan. Scottish lawyer Alasdair Bell is well placed to assume Samoura’s responsibilities, having been brought over from UEFA in September as the deputy secretary general running the administration.

While Samoura retains her position of secretary general, Infantino told members of the FIFA Bureau that she “will delegate her functions within the FIFA administration in accordance with the relevant internal regulations.”

Ceferin responded by asking Infantino for an “accurate description of the role and powers of the FIFA General Delegate for Africa, an accurate description of the way FIFA would function in her absence.”

Samoura’s role in Africa could be extended beyond the six months with the approval of FIFA and CAF.

Announced on the eve of the opening of the African Cup of Nations, FIFA said Samoura’s move is necessary to “bring stability, serenity, professionalism and effective football development on the African continent where the passion for football is so prevalent.”

Overseeing CAF operations and competitions, FIFA said Samoura “will be assisted by a group of experts who will work in a spirit of partnership with President Ahmad.”

Ahmad was detained for questioning by French authorities while attending a FIFA meeting in Paris two weeks ago, then was released without being charged.

Ahmad led a CAF executive committee meeting earlier this month that decided to annul the outcome of the African Champions League final.

The second leg will be replayed after Moroccan club Wydad Casablanca walked off in protest over review video not working and Tunisian side Esperance was awarded the victory. CAF did not fully explain why it overturned the outcome.

FIFA claims Ahmad backed Samoura’s appointment to “conclusively accelerate the implementation of the ongoing reform process destined to ensure that CAF functions with transparency, efficiency while abiding to the highest governance standards.” CAF has yet to provide details of the reform process.

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