JOHANNESBURG: The European Footballer of the Year and FIFA World Player of the Year awards will be merged into the FIFA Ballon d`Or, award organisers France Football and FIFA announced here on Monday.
French magazine France Football has been awarding the Ballon d`Or (Golden Ball) to the best player in Europe since 1956, with eligibility extended to players from any club in the world in 2007. The FIFA award has been running since 1991.
"The winner is football because as of January of next year we will have one single trophy for the best player in the world and this will be the Golden Ball," said FIFA president Sepp Blatter at a press conference here.
Blatter added that the agreement would last "at least until the next World Cup," which takes place in Brazil in four years` time.
Blatter signed an agreement linking the two awards with Marie-Odile Amaury, the president of the Amaury Sport Organisation, which publishes France Football.
The ceremony was also attended by former Liberia striker George Weah, who is the only African player to win both awards.
The Ballon d`Or, widely seen as football`s most prestigious individual honour, is voted for by journalists, while the FIFA equivalent is decided by votes from players and coaches of national teams.
The new award will count votes from the media, players and coaches and will be presented for the first time at a televised ceremony in Zurich, Switzerland on January 10.
Argentina forward Lionel Messi is the current holder of both awards, but the Ballon d`Or has gone to a World Cup-winner in every tournament year since the list of candidates was expanded to include non-European players in 1997.
The FIFA award has also been given to a member of a World Cup-winning side every tournament year since its inception.
BDST: 2101hrs, July 5, 2010