Bolivians given altitude reprieve
May 27, 2008 - Reuters


SYDNEY — Bolivia's soccer team was given a reprieve from what it calls soccer apartheid when the sport's world governing body on Tuesday suspended its ban on internationals played at high altitude.

FIFA had effectively prohibited Bolivian capital La Paz and Ecuadorean capital Quito from staging World Cup qualifiers because of the altitude, when they imposed a limit of 2,750 metres above sea level in December.

The only exceptions to the high altitude ban were if visiting players were given one week to adapt to games over 2,750 metres and 15 days for games over 3,000 metres. Foreign clubs, however, are obliged to release their players only five days ahead of internationals.

That FIFA ruling caused an outcry in the Andean nation who traditionally play home matches in La Paz, the world's highest international venue at 3,600 metres above sea level.

On Tuesday at FIFA's executive committee meeting in Sydney, the Bolivians were given a reprieve when the committee agreed to suspend December's decision to impose an upper-altitude limit until the full results are known of FIFA's study into soccer in extreme conditions, including temperature and humidity as well as altitude.

"The FIFA Medical Committee have recommended that teams must acclimatise properly if they play at high altitude. The Committee wants to examine this, and other extreme playing conditions such as heat, pollution or humidity," FIFA president Sepp Blatter told a news conference.

"The Chair of the Medical Committee wishes to consider the wider implications of football under extreme conditions, so the Executive Committee has provisionally suspended last year's decision against playing at altitude."

Qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup can now go ahead at the high-altitude venues while FIFA considers changes to laws for match conditions at international and domestic club level.

Blatter said FIFA had taken into account lobbying from South America.

Last month nine federations from the South American Football Confederation, notably minus Brazil, signed a declaration of support for Bolivia.