English FA warned: Reform or risk legislative intervention

Leicester's Yohan Benalouane, left, competes for the ball with Derby's Richard Keogh during the English FA Cup Fourth Round replay soccer match between Leicester City and Derby County at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, England, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

The English Football Association was handed a final warning on Thursday: Reform or risk legislative intervention by the British government.

British lawmakers spent two hours on Thursday debating whether the FA, the world's oldest soccer federation, was fit for purpose after criticism of its antiquated structure, lack of diversity among members, and ability to reform itself.

The debate in the House of Commons concluded with British Sports Minister Tracey Crouch saying the government will consider bringing in legislation to force through change at the FA if the body doesn't follow through by April with its promises to reform.

"The clock is ticking fast and failure to reform will lead not just to the withdrawal of public money but further consideration of legislative, regulatory, and financial options to bring about this change needed," Crouch said. "If we want to see better governance of football across the world, then let it begin here."

The FA has been one of the biggest critics of FIFA during the recent scandals.

"Frankly," she said, "what right do we have to criticize the governance of FIFA if the nation's football association is not transparent in its own decision-making process?"

A motion of "no confidence" in the FA was passed by lawmakers, but it is a symbolic and non-binding gesture. There were also only about 20 lawmakers in attendance.

This was the latest attempt by the British government to put pressure on the FA to effect change within its structures — there is only one woman on the FA's 12-person board, for example — and to be stronger in its attempts to dilute the influence of the English Premier League.

Crouch has already threatened to remove part of the 40 million pounds ($50 million) of public funding the government gives to the FA, if the body fails to reform.

"This debate has been running for a long time, too long," said Damian Collins, chairman of the culture, media and sport committee that secured the debate. "The FA, to use a football analogy, are not only in extra time, they are at the end of extra time."

FA chairman Greg Clarke reacted to be debate by saying his organization remained "committed to reforming governance ... to the agreed timescale of the minister."

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