Sat, Jun 16, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Panel bickers over altitude ban

AP , ASUNCION, PARAGUAY

A 15-member medical panel convened by the South American soccer confederation to study FIFA's ban on high-altitude matches bickered amid charges it expelled experts from three Andean nations.

A Colombian representative said on Thursday the leaders of the CONMEBOL medical commission sacked sports medicine specialists of Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador -- all opponents of the ban -- after disagreements over how to respond to the FIFA ban.

Organizers of the panel had no immediate response to the charge and did not immediately release any findings.

Meanwhile, word of divisions among the doctors triggered protests by Bolivian residents in Paraguay outside CONMEBOL's headquarters.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, his mountainous nation most affected by the ban, was scheduled to visit yesterday to lobby CONMEBOL leaders to persuade FIFA to overturn its ban. A CONMEBOL executive committee was awaiting the medical commission's findings before considering further action.

Citing concern for players' health and an unfair home advantage for highland teams, FIFA decided last month to prohibit international tournaments and World Cup qualifying matches above 2,500m. That ruled out the capitals of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and the stadiums of leading teams in Peru, Chile and Mexico.

A source at CONMEBOL, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk, said divisions among the medical panel arose on Wednesday as specialists argued over whether high-altitude matches cause adverse health effects on visiting players.

The source said Andean nation experts argued that playing at high altitudes causes no "major problems" for soccer players from lower elevations who are suddenly asked to perform at altitudes with less oxygen.

But doctors from low-altitude nations argued players with less than a week to adapt, particularly in so-called "short" tournaments, suffer from oxygen deprivation producing such reactions as headache, nausea, fatigue and insomnia.

The doctors were ordered to produce a unanimous recommendation for the CONMEBOL executive committee meeting yesterday to consider whether to press FIFA to overturn or modify the ban.

Among those taking part in the meetings were medical experts from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.

Juan Carlos Quiceno, a sports medicine representative from Colombia, complained the experts from Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia were expelled without a chance to be properly heard.

"They didn't let us into the meeting room, declaring we had nothing to say," Quiceno said.

He called that "incredible," saying Andean nations had the most to say about FIFA's decision.

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