FIFA revises altitude ban

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> FIFA revised its ban on matches at high altitude on Wednesday, easing the restrictions to only apply to World Cup qualifiers above 3,000 meters.

Updated: June 30, 2007 06:32 IST
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FIFA revised its ban on matches at high altitude on Wednesday, easing the restrictions to only apply to World Cup qualifiers above 3,000 meters (9,840 feet).

The revision, brought on by widespread furor among South American countries, means international matches can still be played in the capitals of Colombia and Ecuador, but rules out Bolivia's capital La Paz.

The announcement by FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, came after the world soccer body's executive committee met to hear a complaint from the South American federation, which represents countries that were angered by not being able to host important games in certain stadiums.

FIFA's initial ban, which was passed last month, prohibited international tournaments and World Cup qualifying matches in stadiums above 2,500 meters (8,200 feet).

The organization said the high altitude caused medical concerns for players and an unfair home advantage for highland teams.

But that caused widespread protests as it eliminated matches in Bogota, Colombia, 2,640 meters (8,700 feet) above sea level, and Quito, Ecuador, at 2,800 meters (9,200 feet) above sea level, along with the stadiums of leading teams in Peru, Chile and Mexico.

The new ban only applies to World Cup qualifying matches, Blatter said.

La Paz, which sits 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) above sea level, and stadiums in Cuzco, Peru, will still be unable to host such games.

With Bolivian President Evo Morales leading the campaign, CONMEBOL voted unanimously two weeks ago to press FIFA to overturn the ban.

On Wednesday, FIFA heard arguments from the executive committee's three South American members: CONMEBOL president Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, FIFA vice president Julio Grondona of Argentina and Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil.

Andean countries had worried that their case was to be argued by lowland countries accused by some of being behind the ban in the first place.

In the past, Argentina and Brazil have complained about the disadvantages of having to play at altitude.

Acclimatising problems

Brazil's past complaints have included not being able to get players released from European clubs early enough to acclimatise to high altitudes.

Ecuador Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa, who met with FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, in Zurich on Tuesday, had argued for the ban to be rescinded.

"We believe because of the scientific and medical studies that altitude is not a problem," Espinosa said. "You need some previous adaptation, but what we have seen is that it is more dangerous to play in the heat and the humidity than to play in the altitude," he added.

Morales was scheduled to meet on Thursday with Blatter in Zurich. He said the previous FIFA ruling discriminated against soccer players born in the mountains and the president even played a soccer game on the icy slopes of Bolivia's highest Andean peak in protest.

At a meeting two weeks ago, Andean doctors on CONMEBOL's medical panel insisted there were "no major problems" with playing at altitude.

Other medical experts disagree; however, saying that playing at higher elevations can cause headaches, nausea, fatigue and insomnia.

CONMEBOL also wants FIFA to study other factors that could cause medical problems at games, including "heat, cold and snow."

Andean officials say matches played in extreme heat -like some in Brazil-could also be medically dangerous to players but complain that FIFA has not sought to ban those games.

Blatter said a meeting has been arranged in October to discuss various problems affecting the health of players, including altitude and extreme temperatures.

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