GENEVA: In an unusual move between two of soccer’s most powerful organizations, FIFA has hired a pair of top lawyers away from UEFA.
FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, is run by president Gianni Infantino. He was the general secretary at UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, until 2016.
On Monday, former UEFA legal director Alasdair Bell and former managing director for integrity Emilio Garcia will start work at FIFA headquarters in Zurich, people familiar with the move told The Associated Press. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the hirings have not been publicly announced.
FIFA declined to comment when asked about the moves on Monday.
Both men worked at UEFA under Infantino, who is also a lawyer.
The job switches have been widely speculated among soccer officials in recent weeks, though Bell and Garcia declined to confirm their moves when contacted by the AP.
Bell will become FIFA’s deputy secretary general for administration at a time when Infantino is promoting a $25 billion Saudi Arabia-backed offer to invest in new competitions.
A proposed 12-year deal will see FIFA cede full ownership of a revamped Club World Cup and global event for national teams. It has been strongly resisted by UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin and other leading European soccer officials.
Bell will replace long-time FIFA legal adviser Marco Villiger, whose exit was announced two weeks ago. Villiger had been FIFA’s top lawyer to former president Sepp Blatter since 2007, and its key liaison with American federal prosecutors investigating corruption in international soccer.
Bell’s relationship with Ceferin is said to have soured in recent weeks.
Garcia will become FIFA’s chief legal and integrity officer at a time when the body’s ethics committee is widely seen to have lost independence under Infantino.
The Spanish lawyer joined the UEFA staff six years ago and was seen as a potential president of the Spanish soccer federation. This year, Garcia chose not to stand as a candidate in elections called after previous president Angel Maria Villar was arrested in a corruption investigation.
FIFA and UEFA have been in conflict recently. FIFA controls national-team competitions like the World Cup, and its presidents typically look enviously at the revenue, popularity and quality of soccer in domestic leagues and the UEFA-run Champions League.
The trend has continued under Infantino despite his strong working ties to UEFA after more than six years as the European body’s top administrator and several more years previously on the staff.
Public sparring between Infantino and Ceferin follows similar tension between Blatter and the two previous UEFA presidents, Michel Platini and Lennart Johansson. —AP