HomeSportsFrom Norway, a voice not afraid to call FIFA from within -...

From Norway, a voice not afraid to call FIFA from within – UnlistedNews

Lise Klaveness had only been a few weeks into her role as president of the Norwegian soccer federation last year when she decided to start saying the quiet parts out loud.

Rising from his seat among the delegates at FIFA’s annual congress in Qatar, Klaveness walked purposefully to the raised dais where officials had, for nearly an hour, offered little more than cursory commentary on the men’s World Cup to be hosted in the Gulf country later that year. Procedural issues and updates on financial details had been discussed.

Klaveness, one of the few women in soccer leadership, had other issues on her mind. Addressing issues that had dogged FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, for years, she spoke on ethical issues, migrant workers, women’s and gay rights. She spoke of the responsibility of the (mostly male) officials in the room to ensure that soccer is held to a higher moral and ethical standard when it chooses its leaders and the sites for its most important competitions.

By the time Klaveness finished some five minutes later, he had issued a challenge to FIFA itself, in typically blunt style.

But she had also become a target.

Almost as soon as he returned to his seat, an official from Honduras asked to speak. He bluntly told Klaveness that the FIFA Congress was “not the right forum or time” to make such comments. A few moments later, she was attacked by the head of the Qatar World Cup organizing committee, who told her that she should “inquire” before speaking.

“Since that speech in Doha, a lot of people, and powerful people, want to tell me to calm down,” she said, describing how at various high-profile meetings where she and the Norwegian federation have been obliquely and openly criticized in a way she says is a calculated effort to muzzle her.

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

“It exposed me a little more politically, 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 “had a price.”

He also believes that his positions reflect those of his federation and his country. And she says that she won’t stop pushing them. “I’m very motivated,” she said, “and the day I’m not, I’ll quit. I have nothing to lose.”

Klaveness’s style, so out of step with football’s conservative traditions, has been called into question even by some of his closest allies.

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

But while he acknowledged that soccer could afford to face some tough questions, he suggested that a more diplomatic approach is what produces results.

“I learned in the last six or seven years that you have to be connected,” he said. “And the risk of bringing 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 other soccer leaders have told him “not to exaggerate at least a thousand times.” They have encouraged her to speak in what she describes as an “inner voice,” to be more diplomatic, to work differently. But she said that’s hard “when you have 100 years of proof that there has been no change.”

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

Earlier this year, Klaveness decided to defy convention again by running for election to the board of directors of UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, against male candidates, rather than seeking election to the only seat reserved for women. She was heavily defeated, but then she preferred to see the positive aspects of the votes (18, out of 55 European member countries) she received.

“I see it as a third of UEFA presidents want a change, 18 of them voted for this,” he said. There remains significant resistance from soccer’s top leaders to his priorities, he said, “but underneath them are a lot of people coming close.”

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

The plight of migrant workers in Qatar, for example, continues to be a cause for concern. In March, FIFA promised to look into whether it had ongoing responsibilities in monitoring soccer projects in case its human rights statutes were breached. European officials recruited Klaveness and De Jong to join a FIFA committee on the issue, but months have now passed without any confirmation on how the committee will operate, Klaveness said. Letters and messages for updates, he said, are met with a now-familiar response: “Let me contact you.”

Klaveness rejected the idea that any of the positions she has taken make her an activist, as some claim, or detract from her role as a leader in football, something that will no doubt draw further scrutiny if Norway’s national teams continue to struggle on the pitch.

The Norwegian men’s team, blessed by a talented generation that includes Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard, was unable to take part in protests at the World Cup in Qatar because they failed to qualify. The women’s team, which features former world player of the year Ada Hegerberg, was humiliated, 8-0, by England in 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.

Rather than distract her, Klaveness said that the issues and platforms that she and the federation and teams in Norway have championed are directly related to the game, particularly when it comes to questions about inclusion.

He said he is trying to set an example, to show other soccer leaders that they can be more than what the world expects of them, more than the sea of ​​men in suits that fill hotel lounges and conference rooms every time FIFA comes to town.

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

“It’s a big problem for me and for us at the Norwegian FA,” she said, explaining how the travel commitments inherent in soccer 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 president expires in March 2026, knows her time is limited. She is not prepared to hang on to the role to stay in soccer, she said. But as long as she’s there, she’ll keep talking. And that continued this week.

Her current focus is 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 prize money on offer and a minimum of $30,000 per player. Some national associations, including England’s, appear to be using FIFA’s offer as a cover to withhold extra 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 will be paid to the federations, suggesting the proposed bonuses were a recommendation and not a guarantee.

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


Sara Marcus
Sara Marcus
Meet Sara Marcus, our newest addition to the Unlisted News team! Sara is a talented author and cultural critic, whose work has appeared in a variety of publications. Sara's writing style is characterized by its incisiveness and thought-provoking nature, and her insightful commentary on music, politics, and social justice is sure to captivate our readers. We are thrilled to have her join our team and look forward to sharing her work with our readers.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments