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Last Updated: Monday, 28 May 2007, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Fifa bans high-altitude football
Bolivar stadium, some 3600m above sea level in downtown La Paz, Bolivia
Many of Bolivia's cities, including La Paz, are at high altitude
Football's governing body, Fifa, has banned international matches from being played at more than 2,500m (8,200ft) above sea level.

Fifa said the decision was made because of concerns over players' health and possible distortion of competition.

The ruling was greeted with dismay in Latin America, notably in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, where games in La Paz are played at 3,600m (11,811ft).

Bolivia's President, Evo Morales, vowed to lead a campaign against the ban.

Speaking after an emergency cabinet meeting, Mr Morales said the ruling amounted to discrimination.

"This is not only a ban on Bolivia, it's a ban on the universality of sports," he told reporters.

To play at above that altitude is not healthy or fair
Sepp Blatter
Fifa president

Mr Morales also said he would send a high-level delegation to Fifa's headquarters in Zurich and called on other countries to join his campaign.

"We cannot allow discrimination in soccer, we cannot allow... exclusion in the world of sports," he added.

Many of Bolivia's major cities, including Sucre and Potosi, are at high altitude.


Local commentators in Peru, which was hoping to stage upcoming World Cup qualifiers in Cuzco at 3,400m (11,154ft), suggested Fifa made the decision after pressure from South America's two major football powers, Brazil and Argentina.

Both nations have struggled in recent years while playing at altitude, where the thin air hands an advantage to those acclimatised to the conditions.

Playing sport in conditions of high altitude places heavy demands on the body, forcing the heart to work harder.

Bolivia: La Paz - 3,600m (11,811ft)
Ecuador: Quito - 2,800m (9,186ft)
Colombia: Bogota: 2640m (8,661ft)

Earlier in 2007, Brazilian club Flamengo said they would not play again at altitude after several of their players needed oxygen during a game against Bolivian team Real Potosi, held at nearly 4,000m (13,120ft).

The ban will also affect Ecuador whose national side has qualified for the last two World Cups, winning through on the basis of strong performances in Quito, at 2,800m.

Mexico City, where the 1970 and 1986 World Cup Final was played, just beats the Fifa limit, having an altitude of 2,240m (7349ft).

Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, said the organisation had expected protests from Latin America.

"The executive committee have listened to a proposal from the medical committee and have decided to act because to play at above that altitude is not healthy or fair," he said.

Tim Vickery column
19 Feb 07 |  Football

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