Fifa puts end to high-altitude international matches

Fifa has banned international games from being played more than 2 500m above sea level. Fifa president Sepp Blatter said the decision was taken on Sunday after a review by the medical team for world soccer’s governing body.

Bolivia has held World Cup qualifiers at an altitude of about 3 600m at its capital, La Paz. There has been criticism that Bolivia’s advantage is not only unfair, but also dangerous for the players’ health.

Earlier this year, Brazilian club Flamengo said they would not play again at altitude after several of their players needed oxygen during a game staged at nearly 4 000m against Bolivian team Real Potosi.
Peru also has stadiums above 3 000m.

Speaking after a meeting of Fifa’s executive committee, Blatter also reiterated his full support in South Africa’s ability to hold the 2010 World Cup. “I was fighting to bring the World Cup to Africa,” he said. “Now, I am not fighting; I am confident we are doing it.”

Blatter noted that the same objections arose from European and Latin-American nations when the United States held the World Cup in 1994. “People said then that Americans didn’t know what football was, but we taught them,” he said. “This is not the first time we have organised a World Cup.”

Six South African government ministers will meet Blatter and other top Fifa officials on Wednesday, ahead of the Fifa World Congress being held on Wednesday and Thursday in Zurich.

Blatter said he and other top Fifa officials plan to visit South Africa from June 16 to 18 to check on the country’s progress in upgrading its infrastructure. Five of the 10 South African stadiums being built or upgraded for the 2010 World Cup are supposed to be finished by December 2008—but it is not yet clear that those deadlines will be met.

Blatter also said he still opposes the idea of national teams carrying commercial advertising on their shirts. “As long as I can help it, I will see that national teams do not have advertising on their jerseys.”

The Fifa president also welcomed Manchester United’s decision to cancel a friendly game scheduled for July 27 in Malaysia due to concerns it would distract from the Asian Cup, the region’s flagship tournament from July 7 to 29 to be held jointly in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

“We have been able to convince Manchester United of the fact that the international calendar reserves the second part of June and the entire month of July for competitions of confederations,” Blatter said.

Fifa approved a match in honour of former South African president Nelson Mandela on July 18—his 89th birthday. Former African players will face a Rest of the World team in Cape Town.

Meanwhile, Macedonia and Kazakhstan have been given until June 15 to reinstate federation officials removed in contravention of Fifa rules.

Otherwise, Blatter said, a Fifa emergency committee meeting could be called to discuss suspending the two countries from international fixtures.

Blatter appealed for “dialogue, not confrontation” in Fifa’s ongoing dispute with the G14 organisation of Europe’s most powerful clubs over limits on the number of foreign players per team and compensation for injuries during national service.

“The national associations, from which the G14 come, should also move to bring order back into the family of football,” he said.—Sapa-AP

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