The Effects of Altitude on Soccer Match Outcomes

Abstract: Soccer teams regularly compete at altitudes above 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) with World Cup qualification or other honors on the line. Media, fans, and players often question the fairness of playing at high altitudes, and FIFA temporarily banned international matches above 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) in 2007. Researchers agree that traveling to higher or lower altitude can harm athletic performance, but the effects on professional athletes may be too small to influence match outcomes. Additionally, many teams try to limit altitude effects by allowing players extra time to acclimatize before a match. To identify the causal impact of altitude change, I compare South American international match outcomes between the same teams but played at different altitudes within the same country. This approach controls for influences such as differences in travel distance for high and low altitude countries. I find that traveling to lower altitude does not affect performance but traveling to higher altitude has negative effects. In particular, away teams perform poorly in Quito, Ecuador (2,800 meters), and La Paz, Bolivia (3,600 meters). However, away teams do relatively well in Bogotá, Colombia (2,550 meters). I conclude that stadium altitudes should not be restricted under 3,000 meters without further justification.

The full paper can be found here

The conference poster can be found here


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