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By ESPN Staff

FIFA to introduce altitude restrictions

TOKYO -- Soccer's governing body has taken steps to protect players from so-called extreme conditions in international competitions.

In line with recommendations by leading medical specialists on high altitude, FIFA decided at an executive committee meeting on Saturday that unless players are given time to acclimatize, no international competitions will be held at an altitude in excess of 9,000 feet above sea level.

"There will be no international competitions above 2,750 meters without appropriate time given for players to acclimatize themselves," FIFA president Sepp Blatter said at a press conference.

Since the decision could affect some qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, Blatter said FIFA is still working out the details of how much time will be required for players to acclimatize themselves to altitudes above 9,000 feet.

Blatter also said FIFA was concerned with the noon starting times for soccer games at the Beijing Olympics, where temperatures could reach 104 degrees.

"It's not so much the pollution we are worried about because that is getting better," said Blatter. "But we are concerned with matches starting at noon when it can reach 40 degrees."

FIFA also introduced a referee development program to professionalize the environment in which referees develop and work.

"The future of our game is intrinsically linked to the quality of refereeing," said Blatter. "The new Referring Assistance Program is crucial for football. Today's decision to approve the implementation of this program is a milestone in the history of the game."

FIFA will spend $40 million on the new program called RAP, of which $35 million will be used at the grass roots level.