World Cup winners will have to qualify
The winners of next year's World Cup will not receive automatic qualification for the 2006 finals in Germany, it was announced today.
For the first time in the the competition, the holders will have to earn their place in the finals of the game's blue riband event.
The announcement, which came as a complete surprise to leading figures from the world of football as they gathered here in Busan on the eve of the draw for the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan, followed a proposal at today's meeting from FIFA president Sepp Blatter. He is understood to have caught even his fellow executives off guard.
Nevertheless, the proposal was passed unanimously by the committee.
England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, whose contract with the Football Association runs until the end of the 2006 World Cup, disagreed with the move.
He said: "If you win the World Cup you deserve to qualify for the next one. Maybe it's old fashioned but that's how I am."
FA chief executive Adam Crozier added: "Like most people I am surprised by the decision. There does not seem to have been any warning of it.
"I think it's a shame that the holders won't qualify automatically for the following one. You want the holders there to defend the trophy they won.
"On the other hand, it's getting increasingly difficult for winning countries to get any competitive matches during the fouryear period.
"On balance, we would still rather the holders qualified. It's an important tradition that should have been kept."
The only team never to have defended the competition after winning it were Uruguay, who did not want to travel to Italy in 1934.
FIFA claimed the decision was a reaction to the wishes of former champions who, if presented with the option, said they would prefer competitive matches to meaningless friendlies in the run-up to the World Cup.
But by taking away the champions' automatic right it relieves FIFA of a difficult political headache. They have been under pressure for some time to increase the number of places in the finals for countries from Australasia, Asia and Africa.
Blatter said: "The world champions should play official matches to be better prepared or to be in the same international calendar as all the other national associations. In addition, it means we have one more slot available for the different confederations and I think this is a wise and courageous decision."
In a separate development, FIFA approved sponsorship logos appearing on referees' shirts in club competitions.
Grip warns England fans