College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Footballers must face heights of final

Footballers in the World Cup final could see their exercise capacity reduced by five per cent because of the altitude.

University researchers suggest that, with the final taking place at 1,753 metres above sea level, players will have to adapt to oxygen levels in the atmosphere almost 20 per cent less than at sea level.


The teams would have also had little time to acclimatise to the higher altitude of the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg

Both teams won the semi finals at sea level, with Spain winning at Durban and Netherlands winning at Cape Town.

However, the stadium is not high enough to cause altitude sickness.

There is 18 per cent less oxygen in every breath in Johannesburg than there is in London. The footballers could even be more affected than less sporty people because when they play their lungs are already working at capacity, so the reduced oxygen levels could have more of an effect

Dr. Andrew BretherickResearcher on

Sporting performance

Researchers looked at previous studies comparing the rate of oxygen consumption of trained athletes at different altitude levels.

They then cross referenced these findings to altitude levels of football stadiums being used in the World Cup in South Africa - of which the ones in Johannesburg are the highest.

The effects of altitude have been blamed as why some players may have not been on their top form during the tournament.

Altitude sickness

The aim of the study is to raise awareness of the effects of high altitude.

Altitude sickness can occur from 2,400 metres and lead to potentially fatal conditions, such as high altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE), which causes fluid to build up on the lungs.

A website, with details about the altitude of stadiums in the world, gives details about dangers that high altitude can cause.

High altitude pulmonary oedema

The website hosts the International HAPE database, a unique registry of those who have experienced HAPE.

This condition can affect people of all ages and fitness levels but there is no way to predict who may suffer from it.

The researchers hope to encourage previous sufferers of HAPE to register for the HAPE database would help research to identify people susceptible to the condition.

We want to draw attention to the enormous effects that high altitude has on the body. Every year lives are lost in the mountains because people don’t appreciate the dangers

Dr. Alistair SimpsonDesigner of website