Zurich, Oct 30: FIFA's executive committee has voted unanimously to end its policy of rotating the hosting of World Cups through its six continental confederations.
Confirming the decision today, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said the rotation policy had been dropped with effect from the 2018 World Cup.
Blatter added that a final decision on the hosting of the 2018 event would likely be taken in 2011, with prospective bidders probably needing to signal their interest by 2009.
He said that FIFA had already learned of six possible bids.
''Besides England, there is at least one combined offer from the Netherlands and Belgium,'' Blatter said. ''There has also been interest announced from China, Australia, Mexico and the United States.'' Today's decision opens the bidding for future World Cups up to any national association, providing they do not belong to a confederation that has hosted any of the two preceding editions.
Blatter said there would be no restriction on multiple applicants from the same continental confederation.
''We haven't done that because it is the national associations who are the bidders and they all have the right to bid,'' he explained.
''But definitely if there are 10 or 11 bids then we would have to make a pre-selection like they do with the Olympics.'' FIFA's change of heart means that the 2018 World Cup will be open to bids from all countries except those in Africa and South America.
South Africa was the first beneficiary of the short-lived rotation policy and is set to stage the next edition of the World Cup in 2010.
Brazil is the only candidate bidding to stage the 2014 World Cup in South America and is due to have its host status rubber-stamped by the executive committee on Tuesday.
Blatter said Brazil's sole candidature had been part of his own reasons for wanting to scrap the rotation policy.
''Brazil is a very strong candidate indeed but there was something missing from its bid,'' Blatter said.
''The bid is beautiful, it has all the necessary guarantees and the backing of the country's governors. But competition was lacking, and football is about competition.'' Brazil have won the World Cup a record five times but have only hosted the tournament once before, in 1950.