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Will Altitude Be Factor at World Cup?

Brazilian football team Flamengo are playing a South American cup match in Bolivia. Their opponents, Real Potosi, are based in the high Andes and the stadium is nearly 4000 metres above sea level. In lashing rain, Flamengo fall 2-0 behind. Many of their players need bottled oxygen to alleviate the effects of altitude. Though they eventually fight back for a 2-2 draw, Flamengo announce after the game that they will no longer play matches at altitude.

So began football's "high altitude controversy". Flamengo's case was taken up by the Brazilian Football Confederation, which complained to the world governing body FIFA that venues in the high Andes were not suitable for football. In May 2007, FIFA ruled that "in the interests of player health", international matches could no longer be played above 2500 metres.

If Brazil thought that meant victory, they were not reckoning on a comeback by Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia, who complained to FIFA that this would put a stop to international matches in their national stadiums. In response, FIFA suspended the ban pending further studies.

Fast-forward to June 2010 and altitude is again an issue in football. The World Cup in South Africa will be the first for 24 years to stage games at venues significantly above sea level. The main stadium, Soccer City in Johannesburg, is at 1701 metres. That's not quite the high Andes, but it is still high enough to have an effect. Six other venues are at altitude (see map). Will it have a bearing on the tournament?

Read more at New Scientist.........

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