Norway’s Lise Klaveness calls FIFA from within

Lise Klaveness was only a few weeks into her post as president of the Norwegian Football Association last year when she decided to start saying the silent parts out loud.

Rising from his seat among the delegates at FIFA’s annual congress in Qatar, Klaveness strode purposefully to the raised podium where, for the better part of an hour, officials had made little more than cursory comments about the men’s World Cup to be held in the Gulf nation later that year. There had been talk of procedural matters and updates on the financial details.

Klaveness, one of the few women in football leadership, had other themes on her mind. She tackled issues that had dogged FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, for years, talking about ethical issues, about migrant workers, about women’s and gay rights. She spoke of the responsibility of the (mostly male) officials in the room to ensure that football holds itself to a higher moral and ethical standard when choosing its managers and venues for its biggest competitions.

By the time Klaveness had finished about five minutes later, in typically direct fashion, she had issued a challenge to FIFA itself.

But she had also made herself a target.

Almost as soon as she had returned to her seat, an official from Honduras asked to speak. He bluntly told Klaveness that the FIFA Congress was “not the right forum or the right time” to make such remarks. Moments later, she was accosted by the head of Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee, who told her to “educate yourself” before speaking out.

“Ever since that speech in Doha, so many people and powerful people want to tell me to calm down,” she said, describing how she and the Norwegian federation have been obliquely and openly criticized at several high-profile meetings in what she claims is a calculated effort to snuff her out.

Far from being cowed, Klaveness, who played for Norway’s national team before becoming a lawyer and referee, has continued to speak out, continuing to challenge football’s orthodoxy that sensitive matters should remain behind closed doors.

“Politically, it made me a little bit more exposed, and maybe people will 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 issues of human rights and good governance, she said, also “came with a price.”

She also believes that her views reflect their federation and her country. And she says she won’t stop pushing them. “I’m very motivated,” she said, “and the day I’m not, I’ll quit. I’ve got nothing to lose.”

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

“It’s maybe not the most strategic because it was very confrontational,” Gijs de Jong, the 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 record of following through on its stated commitments, particularly as they relate to human rights.

But while he acknowledged that football could afford to face a few tough questions, he suggested that a more diplomatic approach is what gets results.

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

Klaveness said she has been told “not to exaggerate at least a thousand times” by other football executives. They have encouraged her to speak with what she describes as an “inner voice”, to be more diplomatic, to work differently. But she said it’s difficult “when you have 100 years of evidence of no change.”

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

Earlier this year, Klaveness decided to defy convention again by running for a seat on the board of UEFA, European football’s governing body, against male candidates, instead of seeking the one seat reserved for women. She was soundly beaten, but afterwards preferred to see the positives from the votes – 18, from Europe’s 55 member nations – she received.

“I see it as a third of the presidents of UEFA want change – 18 of them voted for this,” she said. There remains significant opposition from football’s top brass to her priorities, she said, “but beneath them there are a lot of people who are reaching out.”

Soccer remains marked by what Klaveness described as “a culture of fear,” a chilling effect that keeps officials, aware they could be ostracized and lose prestigious and often well-paid roles, from speaking out. For Klaveness, the conversation is still worth having.

The situation of migrant workers in Qatar, for example, remains a concern. In March, FIFA pledged to investigate whether it had any ongoing responsibility in football policing projects if its human rights statutes had been breached. European officials persuaded Klaveness and De Jong to join a FIFA committee on the matter, but now months have passed without any confirmation of how the committee will operate, 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 stances she has taken make her an activist, as some argue, or detract from her role as a football manager, something that will undoubtedly attract increased scrutiny if Norway’s national team continues to struggle on the pitch.

Norway’s men’s team, blessed by a talented generation that includes Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard, could not take part in protests at the Qatar World Cup after failing to qualify. The women’s team, which features former world player Ada Hegerberg, was humiliated, 8-0, by England at last year’s European Championship, and opened the World Cup last week with a loss to New Zealand, who had never won a game in the tournament.

Instead of distracting her, Klaveness said the issues and platforms she a Norway federation and team have fought for are directly related to the game, especially when it comes to issues of inclusivity.

She said she is trying to set an example to show other football managers that they can be more than what the world has come to expect of them, more than the sea of ​​men in suits that usually fill hotel lounges and conference rooms when FIFA comes to town.

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

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

Klaveness, whose term as federation chairman expires in March 2026, knows her time is limited. She is not prepared to get stuck in the role to stay in football, she said. But while she’s there, she’ll continue to speak out. And it continued this week.

Her current focus is the prize money at the Women’s World Cup. Before the tournament, FIFA announced that participating players would be guaranteed 30 percent of the $110 million in prize money on offer and a minimum of $30,000 per player. player. Some national associations, including England’s, appear to be using FIFA’s offer as cover to withhold additional bonus payments. And last week FIFA president Gianni Infantino refused to guarantee that the money would eventually go to the players. Under FIFA rules, he said, the money will be paid to confederations, suggesting the proposed bonuses were a recommendation and not a guarantee.

“He could and should be aware that it is a mandatory payment,” Klaveness said. “Why would you ever say it’s not that straightforward?”

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