The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Norway soccer head draws ire for criticism of FIFA, Qatar’s World Cup

Lise Klaveness delivered a strong message to FIFA on human rights issues. (Hassan Ammar/Associated Press)

Saying FIFA “must set the tone and lead,” the president of the Norwegian Football Federation called out FIFA, soccer’s governing body, over human rights issues that include awarding the World Cup to Qatar in a speech that quickly drew pushback.

Lise Klaveness on Thursday in Doha told the 72nd FIFA Congress and member states that the decision to give Qatar the tournament was “unacceptable” and highlighted issues that included treatment of migrant workers used in constructing venues and concerns in the LGBTQ+ community about traveling to Qatar in November for the finals. The World Cup draw will take place Friday.

Klaveness, a former international who reached a World Cup semifinal and won more than 70 caps, was appointed to lead the NFF earlier this month as its first female leader.

“Football can inspire dreams and break down barriers but as leaders we must do it right, to the highest standards,” she said. “Last year Norway debated boycott of the World Cup in 2022. Instead we voted for dialogue and pressure through FIFA as the best way to work for changes. Our members question ethics in sport and demand transparency. FIFA must act as a role model.

“In 2010 World Cups were awarded by FIFA in unacceptable ways with unacceptable consequences. Human rights, equality, democracy: the core interests of football were not in the starting XI until many years later. These basic rights were pressured onto the field as substitutes by outside voices. FIFA has addressed these issues but there’s still a long way to go.”

Klaveness called for migrant workers who were injured and the families of those who died in creating venues to be taken care of. “There is no room for employers who do not secure the freedom and safety of World Cup workers. No room for leaders who cannot host the women’s game. No room for hosts that cannot legally guarantee the safety and respect of the LGBTQ+ people coming to this theater of dreams.”

Noting that FIFA and the Union of European Football Associations barred Russia national team and clubs after the invasion of Ukraine when forced by “international pressure,” she added, “FIFA must set the tone and lead.”

Jorge Salomon, president of the Honduras FA, then spoke briefly, saying that “it is not the place” to discuss such issues.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the secretary general for Qatar 2022, accused Klaveness of failing to research the country’s human rights record.

“I would like to inform yourselves, as well as the Norwegian Federation and anybody who has doubts about the legacy of this World Cup, that this World Cup is creating legacy,” Al Thawadi said. “We are creating legacy before a ball has even been kicked. The International Labour Organization has described Qatar’s reforms as historic.

“The International Trade Union Confederation considers Qatar’s updated laws as a benchmark for the region. The Building and Woodworkers’ International has compared the safety standards on World Cup sites as equal to those in Europe or North America.

“Remember that a number of these entities that I have mentioned were at one time outspoken adversaries of ours, but, through taking time to understand the complexities of the situation on the ground and through a shared commitment to improving lives, those who were once adversaries became allies and partners.”