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Fifa medical chief downplays World Cup altitude effect

By Piers Edwards
BBC Sport, Johannesburg

2010 World Cup logo
Fifa's medical chief is happy with the altitude situation in the 2010 World Cup

Fifa's chief medical officer has downplayed the effects of altitude at June's World Cup finals in South Africa.

Speaking in Sun City, where the world governing body is hosting a pre-World Cup workshop, Jiri Dvorak said the much-trumpeted issue will have little impact on the tournament.

Both the World Cup's opening match and final will be played in Johannesburg.

This stands at around 1750 metres - the highest host city in the World Cup.

"Johannesburg's altitude is not an issue which will significantly impact on the players' health or performance," the Czech told BBC Sport.

"From around 2000-2500 metres, that's when the player really starts to feel it - but the critical impact comes when playing higher than 3000 metres."

"With 3-4 days' acclimatisation, which is what most teams are doing, players will be fine but most of the teams' training camps are (at altitude) in the Johannesburg area anyway."

Six of South Africa's ten World Cup stadiums stand above 1100 metres, with Johannesburg's two venues (Soccer City and Ellis Park) being the most elevated in the competition.

After the Confederations Cup, there were no complaints from teams abut playing in the Johannesburg area

Jiri Dvorak, Fifa chief medical officer

"After the Confederations Cup, there were no complaints from teams abut playing in the Johannesburg area," Dvorak added.

However, this contrasts to various comments made by several players - whether in rugby or football - about playing at altitude in South Africa.

Following an early British and Irish Lions' rugby match in South Africa last year, Ireland's Ronan O'Gara said he underestimated the impact of altitude while playing in Rustenburg - which only stands some 1150 metres high.

"The mind was telling me one thing, but the body wouldn't get into position to do it," he confessed.

And this was despite the intense altitude preparation the squad undertook before the tournament.

Similarly, England coach Fabio Capello hopes to counteract the anticipated effects of altitude when staging a training camp for his squad in Austria next month.

Ronan O'Gara in action for the British and Irish Lions
Ronan O'Gara (centre) admits underestimating the effects of altitude

In a separate development, Dvorak confirmed that Fifa will start its World Cup doping tests in April - some two months before the finals begin.

All 32 World Cup finalists are required to submit their whereabouts to the world football body by 22 March, with training camp testing running from 10 April to 10 June.

"We take the fight against doping very seriously," he said, adding that eight players in a squad will be selected at random.

"During the World Cup itself, two players per team will be tested, randomly selected from each team, and they will be escorted immediately after the match for the doping controls."

Dvorak said Fifa has conducted more than 33,000 doping tests "over the years", with only 0.03 percent of the cases returning positive results.

The last incident at a World Cup finals itself was when Argentina's Diego Maradona was banned after testing positive for the banned stimulant ephedrine in 1994.



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see also
Is South Africa ready for 2010?
11 Jun 09 |  Football
World Cup map
05 Dec 09 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup: One year to go
11 Jun 09 |  Africa


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