Lise Klaveness, the new president of Norway’s national football association (NFF) made a brave debut at the international football federation’s FIFA Congress in Qatar on Thursday. She spoke out from the podium against corruption and human rights abuses within international football, and urged FIFA to finally put its stated policies into action.
“Our members do demand change, they question the ethics in sport and insist on transparency,” Klaveness said. “We cannot ignore the calls for change.” She urged FIFA to “act as a role model” and follow through on its responsibilities that now include human rights criteria for future World Cup hosts.
“It is vital that the current leadership wholeheartedly continues in this way, truly moving from policy to impact,” Klaveness said, adding that “there is no room” for employers who don’t secure the freedom and safety of World Cup workers, for leaders who can’t (or won’t) host women’s football matches or for “hosts that cannot legally guarantee the safety of and respect for LGBTQ+ people coming to this theater of dreams.”
Klaveness, a former Norwegian football star herself who has played in a World Cup, made her remarks with the full support of Norway’s football association behind her. She never uttered the word “Qatar” in her speech, referring only to the World Cup 2022, but her speech evolved from grass roots calls from Norwegian football fans last year for a boycott of the upcoming World Cup that will be held in Qatar.
A boycott, to protest horrific conditions for migrant workers in Qatar, was later dropped but NFF was also prodded by calls for “human rights on and off the pitch” by Norway’s national men’s football team. Football stars including Martin Ødegaard took part, and at an extraordinary meeting last June, NFF members instructed the NFF president to put forth strong criticism of FIFA from the podium at this year’s Congress.
Klaveness was elected as president earlier this month, after making her own calls for more diversity, tolerance and respect within football. The 40-year-old lawyer and judge thus faced a baptism by fire of sorts at the FIFA Congress just a few weeks later, where she claimed the World Cup was awarded by FIFA “in unacceptable ways with unacceptable consequences.” She also demanded that migrant workers injured or families of those who died while building World Cup stadiums in Qatar “must be cared for” and that FIFA “must now take all necessary measures to really implement change.”
Read Klaveness’ full speech here (external link to NFF’s website).
Her remarks were immediately met with a rebuttal from the president of the football association in Honduras, Jose Ernesto Mejia, who claimed the FIFA Congress “was not the place” to discuss such issues. FIFA President Giovanni Infantino responded that “we’re not responsible for all the evil in the world, or can solve all the problems of the world,” going so far as to call “all the work done” by Qatar to host the World Cup as exemplary.
Hassan Al Thawadi, who’s in charge of the World Cup in Qatar, felt a need to express “disappointment” with the remarks from Norway. He defended Qatar’s “12 years of continual work” organizing the World Cup, mounting a “legacy” and claiming that “this is our country” and “our turn to showcase the Middle East.” He further claimed Klaveness “never asked for a meeting” even though “we have always had our doors open.”
Klaveness, who’s only been Norway’s “football president” for three weeks, later told Norwegian Broadasting (NRK) that her prececessors and herself, in an earlier role at NFF, “have had massive dialogue with the World Cup committee” through all of last year, “from when the boycott issue came up and through to today. Infantino has had meetings with us, also Hassan both direct and indirect through many channels.”
‘Brave and clear’
Jan Petter Saltvedt, sports commentator for NRK, said he was mightily impressed with Klaveness’ speech in Doha on Thursday: “Her speech will go into Norwegian football history, for its bravery and its clarity.” He called the six-minute speech “352 seconds that Norway can be very proud of.”
As for the negative reaction from the men in Doha on Thursday, Saltvedt said he thinks it was well-planned. “They knew very well what Klaveness was going to say here,” Saltvedt said on NRK Thursday afternoon. For them to play like they were hurt or humiliated is part of their game.”
Klaveness, the first female president of NFF in its 102-year history, had also refused to take part in a FIFA meeting on Wednesday that dealt with the migrant workers’ situation, because it was closed to the press. She told TV2 that Norway supports workers’ rights, “but we can’t take part in a meeting on the issue that’s closed to the press.” That would go against Norway’s ongoing calls for openness and transparency.
Her tough speech was getting international attention Thursday afternoon, but Klaveness stressed that her motivation wasn’t that Norway would grab the spotlight. “The point is that these issues (the need for transparency, diversity and zero corruption among other things) need to be brought up,” she told NRK. “That’s the whole point.”