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From Norway, a Voice Unafraid to Call Out FIFA From the Inside

From Norway, a Voice Unafraid to Call Out FIFA From the Inside

Lise Klaveness was only a few weeks into her post as the president of Norway’s soccer federation last year when she decided to start saying the quiet parts out loud.

Rising from her seat among the delegates at FIFA’s annual congress in Qatar, Klaveness strode purposefully to the raised dais where officials had, for the better part of an hour, offered little beyond perfunctory comments about the men’s World Cup that would be staged in the Gulf country later that year. There had been talk of procedural matters, and updates on the financial details.

Klaveness, one of the few women in soccer leadership, had other themes on her mind. Addressing matters that for years had dogged FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, she spoke about ethical questions, about migrant workers, about the rights of women and gay people. She spoke of the responsibility of the (mostly male) officials in the room to ensure that soccer hold itself to a higher moral and ethical standard when it chose its leaders and the sites for its biggest competitions.

By the time Klaveness had finished about five minutes later, she had, in typically direct style, 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 moment” to make such remarks. A few moments later, she was assailed by the head of Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee, who told her she should “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 on several high profile meetings where she, and the Norwegian federation, have been obliquely and openly criticized in a manner that she contends is a calculated effort to muzzle her.

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

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

She also believes her positions reflect those of her federation, and her country. And she says she will not stop pressing 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 soccer’s conservative traditions — has been questioned even by some of her closest allies.

“It’s maybe not the most strategic because it was very confronting,” Gijs de Jong, the secretary general of the Dutch soccer federation, said of Klaveness’s speech in Qatar. De Jong has worked closely with Klaveness over the past two years, and he said he shares many of the same frustrations over FIFA’s record on following through on its stated commitments, particularly when they concern human rights.

But while he acknowledged soccer could afford to face a few hard questions, he suggested a more diplomatic approach was what produces results.

“I learned in the last six, seven years that you have to stay connected,” he said. “And the risk of bringing such a confronting 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 soccer leaders. They have encouraged her to speak in what she describes as an “indoor voice,” to be more diplomatic, to work differently. But she said that is difficult “when you have 100 years of proof 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 think also that football needs voices that can dare to confront the men’s world that football is.”

Earlier this year, Klaveness decided to challenge convention again by standing in elections for a place on the governing board of UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, against male candidates, instead of seeking election to the one place reserved for women. She was soundly beaten, but afterward preferred to see the positives from the votes — 18, from Europe’s 55 member nations — she received.

“I see it as one-third of the presidents of UEFA want change — 18 of them voted for this,” she said. There remains significant resistance from soccer’s top leaders to her priorities, she said, “but underneath them there are a lot of people reaching out.”

Soccer remains infused 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 plight of migrant workers in Qatar, for example, continues to be a concern. In March, FIFA promised to study whether it had any ongoing responsibilities in policing soccer projects if its statutes on human rights had been breached. European officials enlisted Klaveness and De Jong to join a FIFA committee on the matter, but now months have passed without any confirmation about 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 stands she has taken make her an activist, as some claim, or detract from her role as a soccer leader, something that will undoubtedly attract increased scrutiny should Norway’s national teams continue to struggle on the field.

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 because it failed to qualify. The women’s team, which features the former world player of the year Ada Hegerberg, was humbled, 8-0, by England at last year’s European Championship,and opened the World Cup last week with a loss to New Zealand, which had never won a game in the tournament.

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

She said she is trying to set an example, to show other soccer leaders 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 fills the hotel lounges and conference halls whenever FIFA comes to town.

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

“It’s a big issue for me and us at Norway federation,” she said, explaining how the travel commitments inherent in soccer’s leadership roles have made it hard 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 onto the role for the sake of staying in soccer, she said. But while she is there, she will continue to speak up. And that 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 prize money on offer, and a minimum of $30,000 per player. Some national federations, including England’s, appear to be using FIFA’s offer as cover to withhold supplemental bonus payments. And last week FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, declined to guarantee the money would eventually get to the players. Per 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’s an obligatory payment,” Klaveness said. “Why would you ever say it’s not that straightforward?”

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