This Norwegian wants to storm UEFA board ‘without throwing grenades’

This Norwegian wants to storm UEFA board ‘without throwing grenades’

NOS Football

  • Guido van Gorp

    Follows UEFA on behalf of NOS Sport

  • Arjan Dijksma

    Follows UEFA on behalf of NOS Sport

  • Guido van Gorp

    Follows UEFA on behalf of NOS Sport

  • Arjan Dijksma

    Follows UEFA on behalf of NOS Sport

Forget the goal-scoring machine named Erling Haaland in Manchester. Stop daydreaming about stabbing balls from Martin Ødegaard or Ada Hegerberg. In Norway, the presses are currently running overtime for another soccer affair of national importance.

All attention in the Scandinavian country is currently focused on Lise Klaveness, former midfielder and iron fighter of the Norwegian team.

Last year she became the first female president of the soccer federation. On Wednesday, she plans to be the first woman elected to the UEFA board. At the expense of a man.

And that counts in Norway. No fewer than twelve journalists from the country of 5.5 million have flown to Portugal to report on a potentially historic event.

“Do you think it’s okay if photos are taken of the interview?”, Klaveness asks as she holds out her hand in the garden of a luxury five-star hotel, the location where the administrative soccer elite is staying ahead of the UEFA congress.

Walking along in her wake are two journalists. “They are following me for a year for a Norwegian magazine,” she says as if it is the most natural thing in the world.

Figo at the bar

And no, that’s not normal. No soccer executive in the UEFA-leased hotel (some two hundred rooms full of association presidents and officials) has press around him.

Not even soccer celebrity Luis Figo. Here he can hang out undisturbed at the bar with former striker Robbie Keane, while Croatian goal scorer of yesteryear Davor Suker searches the dining room by himself.

Norway’s Klaveness enters battle with men on UEFA board

To understand Klaveness’s story, we have to go back in time exactly one year. During the FIFA Congress in Qatar, she, only three weeks in office, grabbed the microphone. Gianni Infantino and the predominantly male soccer administrators look on skeptically.

First she talks about her dreams as a 13-year-old girl and snowy gravel fields. Then, a few moments later, “In 2010, World Cups were allocated in unacceptable ways. With unacceptable human rights consequences.”

Boom. Bang. A bombshell in the heart of Doha, dropped by a woman married to a woman.

“It was risky to do that. Some were incredibly angry with me and looked down on me,” Klaveness says now. “But I still stand by it. It was my duty to do that.”

Last year, Klaveness noticed: making your voice heard may be the right thing to do, but it won’t make you any friends. Within the managerial circles of world soccer, if you stick out above the surface with an opinion, you are 1-0 behind. Or more.

Klaveness: “It’s a closed culture with big interests. In recent years, people have become more careful about what they say because they fear the consequences. That you’ll miss out on a managerial position or not be awarded a tournament.”

You quickly get the message: there is a political price you pay if you think differently.

Lise Klaveness on the culture of governance in soccer

Keeping your mouth shut, listening and falling in line instead of showing courage and speaking out. Is that actually a lesson she has learned since her speech in Doha last year?

“Yes,” Klaveness says. “It’s not like other presidents call me up and literally tell me this, but you quickly get the message. There’s a political price you pay if you think differently.”

According to Norwegian, there is work to be done to cut out outdated elements from soccer. As a (candidate) member of the UEFA board, she says, that is just a little easier than as president of a relatively small soccer federation.

“There is no point in throwing a grenade on the whole system. However, there are things that need to be adjusted. Soccer is the biggest sport among women, but there is no one representing them on the UEFA board. Leadership is needed with a feeling for this sport. You can’t come from men’s soccer and look down on women’s soccer.”

Lise Klaveness in action on behalf of Norway at the 2003 World Cup

Occasionally Klaveness looks around during the interview. She nods to the Swiss federal president who is interviewing a camera crew a few meters away.

“Whether I enjoy this kind of setting? No, actually I find it terribly boring. At the same time, I find it very interesting,” she refers to the human relationships and “the game” of getting things done from fellow board members. The so-called lobbying, the wheeling and dealing.

Beer Table

All 11 candidates for the seven vacant board spots play to the mob in their own way. Where Klaveness focuses on substantive conversations, her Liechtenstein colleague hangs out at the beer table in a nearby pub.

Around him men in suits, half-full draft beers and smiling faces. Old buddies, you can tell immediately. Among them the Hungarian vice president of UEFA, who conveniently shakes hands with incoming guests in between.

Klaveness on her lobbying, which is clearly different: “In the past two months, I spoke with as many as forty to fifty association presidents. Then I really tried to make time for them.”

She did what she could, she says. In her own way. “Whether it had an effect, we’ll see on Wednesday.”

Kayleigh Williams