Norway’s Liz Klavennis summons FIFA from within

Liz Klavenice was only a few weeks into her job as president of the Norwegian Football Association 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, Claveness walked purposefully to the elevated podium where, for the better part of an hour, officials made little perfunctory commentary about the men’s World Cup tournament to be held in the Gulf country later that year. There was talk of procedural issues, and updates on financial details.

Clavenice, one of the few women in charge of football, had other topics on her mind. And she spoke about issues that had been dogged for years by FIFA, the world’s soccer governing body, and she talked about moral questions, 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 adheres to higher moral and ethical standards when it chooses its captains and venues for its biggest competitions.

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

But she has also made herself a target.

Once she was back in her seat, a Honduran official asked to speak. Klaveness bluntly told FIFA Congress “wasn’t the right forum or the right moment” to make such remarks. A few moments later, she was attacked by the head of the Qatar World Cup Organizing Committee, who told her that she should “educate yourself” before speaking out.

“Since that speech in Doha, a lot of people and influential people want to tell me to calm down,” she said, describing how she and the Norwegian Federation were both indirectly and explicitly criticized in several high-level meetings, in a way she claims is a calculated attempt to silence them.

Far from servile, Klavenjes, who played for the Norway national team before becoming a lawyer and judge, continued to speak out, continuing to challenge soccer’s dogma that sensitive matters should be kept behind closed doors.

“Politically, it made me more exposed, and maybe people want to say to me, ‘Who do you think you are?'” “In different ways,” Klavenice, 42, said in an interview ahead of the Women’s World Cup. She said publicly asking questions about human rights and good governance “has a price”.

She also believes that her positions reflect the positions of her federation and her country. She says she will not stop pressuring them. She said, “I’m so excited, and the day I don’t, I’m going to quit. I have nothing to lose.”

Clavenice’s style – which runs counter to football’s conservative traditions – has been questioned even by some of its closest allies.

“Maybe it wasn’t the most strategic thing because it was very confrontational,” said Jeges de Jong, general secretary of the Dutch Football Association, of Clavennes’ 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 about FIFA’s record of following through on its stated commitments, particularly in relation to human rights.

But while acknowledging that football can afford to face some tough questions, he suggested a more diplomatic approach is what yields results.

“I’ve learned in the last six or seven years that you have to stay in touch,” he said. “And the risk of making such a confrontational rhetoric is that you lose touch with the rest of the world. And I think that is the danger of this approach.”

Klavenice said other football leaders told her “not to go too far at least a thousand times”. They encouraged her to speak with what she describes as an “inner voice”, to be more diplomatic, and to act differently. But, she said, that’s hard “when you have 100 years of proof of immutability.”

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

Earlier this year, Klaveness decided to once again defy convention by standing in election for a seat on the governing body of UEFA, European football’s governing body, against male candidates, rather than seeking election to the only position reserved for women. She was badly beaten, but then she preferred to see the pluses from the votes – 18, from Europe’s 55 member states – she got.

“I see that a third of EU presidents want change – 18 of them voted for this,” she said. There is still a lot of resistance from senior football leaders to her priorities, she said, “but underneath there are a lot of people to connect with”.

Football is still imbued with what Klavenis described as a “culture of fear”, a chilling effect that keeps officials aware they may be ostracized and lose the prestigious and often paid roles of speaking out. For Klaveness, the conversation is still worthwhile.

The plight of migrant workers in Qatar, for example, remains a source of concern. In March, FIFA promised to study whether it had any ongoing responsibilities in monitoring football projects if its human rights laws were breached. Claveness said European officials had recruited Clavennes 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. Messages and messages for updates, she said, were met with the now-familiar response: “Let me get back to you.”

Klavenice has rejected the notion that any of the positions she has taken make her an activist, as some claim, or detract from her role as a football captain, something that will no doubt attract greater scrutiny if Norway’s national teams continue to struggle on the pitch.

Blessed with a talented generation that includes Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard, the Norwegian men’s team was unable to take part in the protests at the Qatar World Cup because it failed to qualify. The women’s team, which includes previous year’s World Player of the Year Ada Hegerberg, was humbled 8-0 by England at last year’s European Championships and opened the World Cup last week with a loss to winless New Zealand in the tournament.

Rather than being distracted, Klavenice said the issues and platforms championed by the Norway federation and teams 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 football captains that they can be more than what the world has expected of them, than the sea of ​​men in suits that usually fill hotel lounges and conference rooms when 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 of the Norwegian contingent that they could bring their families with them as well.

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

Clavenese, whose term as president of the federation ends in March 2026, knows her time is limited. She said she was not ready to hold on to the role in order to stay in football. But while she’s there, she’ll keep talking. And that continued this week.

Her current focus is on prize money at the Women’s World Cup. Prior to the tournament, FIFA announced that participating players would receive 30 percent of the $110 million prize money on offer, a minimum of $30,000 per player. Some national associations, including England, appear to be using FIFA’s offer as a cover to withhold additional bonus payments. And last week, FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, refused to guarantee that the money would eventually reach the players. He said that according to FIFA rules, the money will be paid to the federations, indicating that the proposed rewards were a recommendation, not a guarantee.

“It could and should have been clear that it was a mandatory push,” Klavenis said. “Why would you say that it is not so simple?”