Altitude Discrimination?

May 30, 2007

Two days ago, the BBC reported on Fifa’s decision to ban international soccer matches at altitudes greater than 2,500 meters. If you think about that for a minute, you know where this is going. This has sparked huge protest from certain Latin American nations, namely Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, where a great deal of the countries are at altitudes much higher than 2,500m. Cuzco, a not-insignificant city in Peru, is at 3,400m, which is something of a problem since Peru was planning to have World Cup qualifiers there. La Paz, one of Bolivia’s capital cities*, is 3,600m. To put this in a perhaps more familiar perspective to some, Mexico City only barely makes it into legal play, being at 2,240m.

Fifa, of course, claims they made the decision based on its medical committee’s recommendation that high-altitude play was unhealthy and unfair. Some people, however, have a different theory:

 Local commentators in Peru… 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.

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