LONDON (AP) - Britain's government demanded Wednesday that the English Football Association implement wide-ranging governance changes, including curbs on debt and stricter checks on foreign owners.
Responding to a report by a group of influential legislators, the government backed concerns that some clubs are living on the "edge of viability" and pledged to introduce legislation that will force the FA to make the required changes if not approved by the end of February.
Sports minister Hugh Robertson said the world's oldest soccer association has "failed to keep up with the changing pace of the modern game."
Robertson wants the FA to seize control of the national game from the wealthy Premier League as part of a new licensing system that all clubs must adhere to. The most stringent measures would seek to address concerns over the "financial sustainability" of clubs.
"Debt per se is not always a bad thing, but it must be genuinely sustainable and should be assessed as a percentage of turnover," the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said. "There is a legitimate role for the national governing body, working hand in hand with competition organizers, to ensure that appropriate and consistent checks and balances are in place to protect the overall financial integrity of the national game and its long-term viability."
The growth of the Premier League since its began in 1991 has led to half of the 20 clubs being under foreign ownership.
But high debt levels at clubs remain troubling. Liverpool was rescued from the brink of bankruptcy by the Boston Red Sox ownership group of John Henry one year ago.
"Because of the inherent attraction of English football clubs to foreign investors and markets, particularly robust criteria need to be applied to prospective owners and directors before they are allowed to own or run a club," the government said.
As part of reforms for the 2012-13 season, the government wants an independent body to run the disciplinary process, stripping the FA of the power to ban players.
The government also wants clubs to release players to appear for the under 17, 19 and 21 sides and not just the senior team in a bid to help England end a trophy drought stretching back to the 1966 World Cup.
"Government is fully committed to ensuring that the changes put forward by the football authorities make a lasting and substantive difference," the response to Parliament said. "If that does not happen the Government will introduce a legal requirement on the Football Association to implement the appropriate governance clauses by the swiftest possible means."