Norway’s Lise Klaveness is calling FIFA from within

Norway’s Lise Klaveness is calling FIFA from within

Lise Klaveness was just weeks into her post as president of the Norwegian football federation last year when she decided to start saying the silent parts out loud.

Rising from his seat amongst delegates at the annual FIFA congress in Qatar, Klaveness walked purposefully to the raised dais where officials, for nearly an hour, offered little more than perfunctory commentary on the men’s World Cup to be held in the Gulf country later that year. There were conversations about procedural issues and updates on financial details.

Klaveness, one of the few women in football’s leadership, had other themes on her mind. Addressing issues that have dogged FIFA, the governing body of world football, for years, she spoke about ethical issues, migrant workers, the rights of women and gays. She spoke of the responsibility of the (mainly men) officials present in the room to ensure that football is held to a higher moral and ethical standard when choosing its officials and the venues for its major competitions.

When Klaveness finished some five minutes later, she, in typically direct style, issued a challenge to FIFA itself.

But she also became a target.

As soon as she returned to her seat, a Honduran official asked to speak. He bluntly told Klaveness that the FIFA Congress was “not the right forum or the right time” to make such comments. A few moments later, she was attacked by the head of the Qatar World Cup organizing committee, who said she should “educate herself” before speaking.

“Since that speech in Doha, many people, and powerful people, have wanted to tell me to calm down,” she said, describing how at several high-level meetings where she and the Norwegian FA have been openly and indirectly criticized in a way that she claims was a calculated effort to muzzle her.

Far from being intimidated, Klaveness, who played for the Norwegian national team before becoming a lawyer and judge, continued to speak out and challenge football’s orthodoxy that sensitive matters should remain behind closed doors.

“Politically, it left me a little more exposed, and maybe people want to say to me, ‘Who do you think you are?’ in different ways,” Klaveness, 42, said in an interview ahead of the Women’s World Cup. Openly raising questions about human rights and good governance, she said, also “came with a price”.

She also believes that her positions reflect those of her federation and her country. And she says she won’t stop pressuring them. “I’m really motivated,” she said, “and the day I’m not, I quit. I have nothing to lose.”

Klaveness’ style – so out of step with football’s conservative traditions – has been questioned by even some of his closest allies.

“Maybe it’s not the most strategic because it was very challenging,” Gijs de Jong, general secretary of the Dutch football association, said of Klaveness’ speech in Qatar. De Jong has worked closely with Klaveness over the past two years and said he shares many of the same frustrations with FIFA’s track record in delivering on its stated commitments, particularly when it comes to human rights.

But while acknowledging that football can afford to tackle some difficult issues, he suggested a more diplomatic approach is what yields results.

“I’ve learned over the last six, seven years that you have to stay connected,” he said. “And the risk of bringing such a confrontational discourse is that you lose connection with the rest of the world. And I think that’s the danger of this approach.”

Klaveness said she was told “not to overreact at least a thousand times” by other football leaders. They encouraged her to speak in what she describes as an “inner voice”, to be more diplomatic, to work differently. But she said it’s hard “when you have 100 years of proof of no change”.

“I think she is very, very popular in Norway because she never hides and never lies and speaks a language that everyone can understand,” said Norway men’s national team coach Stale Solbakken. “I also think that football needs voices that dare to face the male world that is football.”

Earlier this year, Klaveness decided to defy convention again by running for a seat on the governing body of UEFA, European football’s governing body, against male candidates rather than seeking election to the only seat reserved for women. She was badly defeated, but later preferred to see the positive side of the votes – 18, from the 55 member countries of Europe – that she received.

“I see it as a third of UEFA presidents want change – 18 of them voted for it,” she said. There is still significant resistance from football’s top leaders to her priorities, she said, “but underneath those are a lot of people reaching out”.

Football remains infused with what Klaveness has described as “a culture of fear”, a chilling effect that prevents managers, aware that they can be ostracized and lose prestigious and often well-paid jobs, from speaking out. For Klaveness, the conversation is still worth it.

The situation of migrant workers in Qatar, for example, remains a concern. In March, FIFA pledged to study whether it had any ongoing responsibility for policing football projects if its human rights statutes were breached. European officials recruited Klaveness and De Jong to sit on a FIFA committee on the matter, but now months have passed without any confirmation on how the committee will work, Klaveness said. Letters and messages for updates, she said, are met with a now-familiar response: “Let me get back to you.”

Klaveness rejected the idea that any of the positions she has taken make her an activist, as some claim, or diminish her role as football’s leader, something that will no doubt attract greater scrutiny if Norway’s teams continue to struggle on the field.

Norway’s men’s team, blessed with a talented generation that includes Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard, were unable to participate in the Qatar World Cup protests because they failed to qualify. The women’s team, which features former player of the year Ada Hegerberg, was beaten 8-0 by England in last year’s Euros and opened the World Cup last week with defeat to New Zealand, who had never won a game in the tournament.

Rather than distracting her, Klaveness said the issues and platforms she has championed in a federation and teams in Norway are directly related to the game, particularly when it comes to issues of inclusivity.

She said she is trying to lead by example, to show other football leaders that they can be more than the world expects of them, more than the sea of ​​men in suits that tend to fill hotel lobbies and conference rooms whenever FIFA comes to town.

She traveled to New Zealand with her wife and three young children, all under the age of 10, and told other officials in the Norwegian contingent that they too can bring their families.

“It’s a big problem for me and for us in the Norwegian FA,” she said, explaining how the travel commitments inherent in football leadership roles made it difficult to recruit women and made it “easy for people to say that women don’t want the job”.

Klaveness, whose term as president of the federation expires in March 2026, knows his time is limited. She is not prepared to hold the job to stay in football, she said. But as long as she’s there, she’ll continue to talk. And that continued this week.

Her current focus is the Women’s World Cup prize money. Prior to the tournament, FIFA announced that participating players would be guaranteed 30% of the $110 million prize money on offer and a minimum of $30,000 per player. Some national associations, including England, appear to be using FIFA’s offer as a cover to withhold supplemental bonus payments. And last week, FIFA president Gianni Infantino refused to guarantee that the money would eventually reach the players. Under Fifa rules, he said, the money would be paid out to the federations, suggesting the proposed bonuses were a recommendation rather than a guarantee.

“He can and should make it clear that it’s a mandatory payment,” Klaveness said. “Why would you say it’s not that simple?”

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