FIFA is preparing to reintroduce a ban on playing international football matches at high altitude -- likely starting a fresh dispute with South American countries.

FIFA medical committee chairman Michel D’Hooghe said Saturday the issue is being discussed next week. It believes players’ health is at risk if they are unused to thin air.

“We have a firm position towards altitude and I will defend it,” D’Hooghe told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the inaugural FIFA medical conference.

The medical panel meets Monday and hopes to submit a report on playing in extreme conditions to FIFA’s ruling executive committee next March.

In doing so it will revisit a contentious subject that was put on hold last year after meeting opposition from Bolivia and regional neighbours.

FIFA ruled that teams must acclimatize for at least two weeks before playing international games at above 3,000 meters (9,800 feet), and one week before games above 2,750 meters (9,000 feet).

Bolivia, led by its president Evo Morales, threatened legal action because it plays in La Paz at 3,640 meters (11,900 feet).

FIFA then withdrew the rule because the World Cup qualifying program had begun and Colombia had already visited Bolivia, playing out a 0-0 draw in La Paz in October 2007.

“We did not postpone (the rule) because it is not true,” D’Hooghe said, standing by the medical panel’s advice. “If some had already to play in altitude in the same competition we could not say to others they could not. I will defend the medical point of view in the executive committee. That’s my duty.”

D’Hooghe said he was aware that Bolivia could take up its cause again.

“It became more of a political than a medical problem,” he said. “I am not a politician, I am a doctor. We have to take care for the health of the players so we will do it.”

Bolivia missed out on qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, finishing ninth in the 10-nation group.

It won four matches, including victories in La Paz against Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay who all qualified for the finals in South Africa.

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