Speeches at the award ceremony for the Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute to Lise Klaveness
On Thursday, 21 April 2022, Lise Klaveness was awarded the Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute for the brave, no nonsense speech addressing human rights violations and discrimination she delivered at the international FIFA Congress in Qatar on Thursday, 31 March. The prize was awarded by Frank Rossavik, a member of Fritt Ord’s board.
Speech delivered by Frank Rossavik:
Good morning. It is an honour and a pleasure to award the Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute to Norwegian Football Federation (NFF) President Lise Klaveness.
The Board’s grounds for why she merits the Tribute are: “for the brave, no nonsense speech addressing human rights violations and discrimination she delivered at the international FIFA Congress in Qatar on Thursday, 31 March”.
While brief, the grounds are broad, just as Klaveness’ speech in Doha was broad. She took her point of departure in her own personal football career, placing considerable emphasis on the need for transparency in how FIFA operates in order to achieve equality and safe conditions for queers and other minorities.
Klaveness criticised how Qatar was awarded the Football World Cup despite being in breach of the values of the sport. She did not shy away from mentioning FIFA’s belated, vague reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as international top-level football’s general lack of willingness to stand up against violations of human rights, corruption and discrimination.
However, her most important topic was the choice of Qatar as the venue for the autumn’s world cup in football.
The decision by FIFA’s executive committee came as a shock when it was announced on 2 December 2010. That a desert nation without football traditions, covering an area just marginally larger than Rogaland County would organise a world cup in football for 32 participating countries, was odd in itself.
Add to that the fact that Qatar is an authoritarian state with minimal respect for human rights, including employees’ rights. Under wretched conditions, migrant workers carried out the risky process of building a sufficient number of gigantic football arenas, at a breakneck pace, under the burning desert sun. Work also had to be done to prepare the country for the event. A significant number of workers from other countries have lost their lives.
For good reason, the choice of Qatar for this autumn’s World Cup has been seen as a sign of the corruption that has plagued FIFA for quite some time. However, the scandal has not been dispelled. The World Cup will be held there, despite nearly 12 years of continuous, intense international protests.
Norway has carved out a reputation for itself in this context. The football magazine Josimar’s comprehensive, critical journalism contributed greatly to the emergence of a broad grassroots movement in Norway, urging the national team to boycott the Qatar World Cup. At one time, the protest movement appeared strong enough to accomplish exactly that.
The decision taken by the NFF Congress in June 2021 was nevertheless that the Norwegian national team not boycott the qualifiers, which were already in progress at the time. At the time, the debate also raised greater awareness among NFF’s board and executive management, where Lise Klaveness was the head of women’s elite football.
She had been an outspoken critic of the Qatar World Cup since long before joining NFF, not least as a football commentator for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK).
NFF made its participation in the qualifiers contingent on getting more involved in promoting human rights.
In addition, a huge majority at the NFF Congress supported a proposal made by the Trane Sports Club in Bergen that NFF take the rostrum at the next FIFA Congress and give voice to its deep-seated criticism of awarding the World Cup to Qatar.
That was the assignment Lise Klaveness was tasked with carrying out on 31 March this year. She did it with great aplomb, also touching on several other important topics in addition to the Qatar World Cup.
No one involved in the grassroots movement in Norway can possibly be dissatisfied with the way NFF’s president performed her assignment. Klaveness went far beyond simply following up their resolution.
The speech has generated a great deal of attention at the international level as well. Klaveness’ debut in this arena was far from ordinary.
Some angry reactions, not least from Qatar, are proof that Norway’s message was received.
The way this is unfolding may possibly be an example of how compromise can sometimes pack a stronger punch than a primary position. Had Norway simply withdrawn from the qualifiers, the move would have attracted attention, but also criticism. Generally speaking, it could potentially have damaged Norway more than FIFA and Qatar.
Especially if the little football nation in the north had stood alone.
Now the national team is boycotting the finals in Qatar instead, as others have done, but President Klaveness had the opportunity to deliver exceptionally brave and sharp criticism from the rostrum of the FIFA Congress.
It is possible that the Qatar World Cup may be a turning point, with emphasis on the word ‘may’.
FIFA resolved to amend its statutes in 2017. Human rights will get more attention. The organisation promises in future to “respect all internationally recognised human rights and help to ensure compliance with them.”
Hopefully, this will have consequences for FIFA’s decisions on where to arrange the World Cup and UEFA Cup in future.
But there is no reason to be naive. As late as in March, FIFA President Gianni Infantino visited Saudi Arabia to talk football with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two have been good friends for some time.
It is also not known whether or not Infantino will cut his close ties to Vladimir Putin.
In this respect, dear Lise Klaveness, the Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute also embodies a desire for the Norwegian Football Federation to maintain its commitment, building the alliances needed to see to it that FIFA really changes.
One objection to this turn of events has been that Qatar is a financially and politically insignificant state, minimising the downside of falling out with it. Will it be possible to maintain a comparable commitment to principles when Russia is awarded a World Cup in football, like one it arranged most recently in 2018? Or when China is chosen to organise Olympic games again, like this year?
Parenthetically speaking, a boycott of the Olympics would, of course, also have entailed a far greater risk that Norwegian athletes would miss out on something, for example, 16 gold, eight silver, and 13 bronze medals.
A more positive approach is to say that the Qatar World Cup has given the international movement against so-called “sports washing” an opportunity for a much-needed lift.
After this, it will be more difficult to ignore human rights in the broad sense when venues for the Olympic games and international championships in individual sports are to be chosen.
And while we can hope that the choices will be more difficult, a great deal of work still remains.
Finally, I would like to express our gratitude once again to Lise Klaveness for the courage, strength and clarity she demonstrated from FIFA’s rostrum in Qatar. The Freedom of Expression Foundation Tribute is well deserved. We are delighted to have you here with us to receive it.
Lise Klaveness’ acceptance speech:
“Free speech”. Almost like “free play”.
And nothing is better than “free play”. “Play these last 25 minutes”, he might say – although in some years, she might say it, but in most years, it would be a he. “Free play?” we asked. “No, within limits”, they might say.
A maximum of one touch, or forced two touches or a forced corridor or only scoring after a corridor or only two, three or four strikers over the midfield line. Words and play, but not free.
But sometimes on weekdays, the words and limitations were fewer, and play was free. Completely free. Within the four lines of the field. Or actually playing within 12 lines and hundreds of other rules.
It is really special to be awarded this kind of tribute. An award for free speech. My sincere thanks to those who are behind this.
I have been a talker my whole life. I talk with words and I talk with my legs.
Like legs, words can sometimes be agile. Agile legs. Agile words. At other times, and just as often, they can be painful, rigid and heavy. Heavy legs. Heavy words. Let your legs do the talking, we often say. With a different agenda.
Let your words run.
I’m thinking of how we, me and you, fascinating strangers, have talked so much at Gardermoen or Flesland airports that we’ve missed countless flight departures. How stops to greet with dogs or to chat with passing people or animals have led to formidable delays in an already crazy busy schedule. How stories that drone on and on have led to much deserved reprimands from coaches, and how a steady stream of phone calls has made it so hard to concentrate on getting dressed that it once resulted in me having no skirt on under my coat while attending a law school lecture.
I’m not sure my mother, father, wife and others think that I really need such a tribute. They might think my speech is already free enough. “Chatterbox” was a word often uttered by my grandmother and other adults as I was telling them about all the things I that had crossed my mind on any given day. Strange really how words, in this case fitting words, can so effectively choke other words, putting the light out on what else should, must, be said. But the light always returned for me. Only minutes later, usually. I grew up in a home where love was boundless and in a society where opportunities abounded.
Like play, speech is not always free.
Not even within the boundaries of the four or twelve lines on a football pitch. In a single year, I got 11 yellow cards. Most were for how I used my mouth rather than how I used my legs or other body parts.
Which reminds me – football referees should not be allowed to say: “One more word out of you, and you’ll be seeing yellow.” Or red.
My sincere thanks for this prestigious award. I and we accept it with great humility and as motivation to work even harder to protect the sport of football.
I’ll move straight to the picks for today’s team:
On the left back, in an effective two-back line, the starters are my good colleagues at NFF, in Norwegian football in general and the national teams. You are there in the best interest of the game, whether the pressure be high and low, and you know what teamwork is, forming a common line and making high-quality contributions. You dare to break formation when things heat up, and you are constantly teaching me new things.
The right-side features good teammates through 20 years of hard training, who have run and fought for the team, and for the rights of girls and women to participate in football in 15 different countries in the Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia and the Western Balkans. You are the foundation that enables the rest of the team to move across the field, to dare to do more, not least because you have shown us at close range how more participation on the part of girls in countries like Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan strengthens the role of football as an important voice for promoting equality and a more equal society.
Those starting on this team at midfield have definitely earned our trust as independents, organisations, media – you who shoulder the heavy burden and cost of covering the entire space, searching out tackles and genuine insights, sometimes taking high risks to make breakthroughs, but at other times, more often, making routine passes to others who are in a better position. Both are of the utmost importance for the game. For change.
A little more about the other midfield engine. That would definitely be the Norwegian football clubs and fans who most decidedly make their presence felt at the games, who demand running and change-ups from teammates, and who call for more ethical engines in international sports management. The midfield players fed me the pass that led us to breach FIFA’s side and made it possible to exert so much pressure on the pitch.
Regrettably, we have to play without strikers. Again today. This will have to continue until all girls are free to fulfil their dreams, until the young people of the world no longer need to hide who they are in order to take part, until everyone who builds our pitches is treated with the same respect as those who will be using them.
At the very back, as the goalkeeper for the team and for society, stands the girl who catches the balls every day on behalf of the most vulnerable among us, like the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers (NOAS), with its untiring and dedicated efforts to gain respect and legal protection for asylum-seekers and refugees arriving in Norway.
In a short time, Norway has received more than 12 000 asylum-seekers from Ukraine. Situations when many refugees arrive at the same time put the whole team to the test. Our formations are stretched, and the most vulnerable risk being taken out of play, exploited, and exposed to even greater danger.
Football-Norway has traditionally been in the forefront, welcoming newly arrived refugee children and adolescents to take part in local football clubs. I am immensely proud to be part of such a movement. Now we need to get back on the pitch again, and all of us have to run, be brave, and dare to get squarely in front of a pass, even though we have a great goalie behind us. We must offer the most important gift that football can give: The fact that the language of football does not require school classes or formal affiliations, and that it gives us a break from situations that are beyond words. We offer this not only to teammates from Ukraine, but also to those from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and all other countries.
On behalf of the entire team: My sincere thanks for this prestigious award.
In recent weeks, I experienced what extremely strong pressure can be brought to bear to stop people from speaking out on sensitive matters, in sensitive contexts. I respect FIFA for allowing us to take the floor to present our criticism. Since then, we have received feedback from colleagues in many other countries, including non-western countries, stating that it was important to raise this debate at the FIFA Congress.
Now we need to forge ahead. To stand up to the pressure, to dare to pick up the pace. Together as one. For I and we also meet in deafening silence or under admonishments not to provoke too much, from others who could and should carry the torch into the future.
We must seize the moment, the time is here and now, in the struggle for football, to bring about the changes that need to be made, and to be the best we can be in this situation.
On behalf of all the girls who don’t have access to the theatre where dreams are made, for the boys and the girls who are forced to hide who they are, for Bhogendra from Nepal who came to Qatar to be able to provide for his family, but who ended up making the ultimate sacrifice on the job in 2018, and for all the other workers who have lost their lives or been injured in the service of football.
For the players and for the game.
We must let our legs speak and our words run.