Statistics | Update on high-altitude football

Patrick McSharry of Oxford University, analyzing scores from 1,460 international matches played at different altitudes in South America, concludes that differences in altitude do produce advantages for the acclimatized team (“High-Altitude Football Teams Have Big Advantage over Opponents,” AFP, Dec 21). But McSharry, a mathematician, looks at statistical evidence only, not whether high-altitude football entails a health risk (see also Jul 6 and Jun 15).

It is also unclear how much of the advantage of high altitude accrues simply to playing at home, in front of supporters, avoiding the inconvenience of travel and reaping a possible edge from referees’ decisions. The research—published in the British Medical Journal (“Effect of Altitude on Physiological Performance: A Statistical Analysis Using Results of International Football Games,” Dec 22)—does state that, for two teams from the same altitude, the probability of the home team winning is .537.

“This rises to 0.825 for an altitude difference of 3,695m (such as high altitude Bolivia versus a sea level opponent Brazil) and falls to 0.213 when the altitude difference is -3,695m (Brazil versus Bolivia)” (“High Altitude Soccer Teams Have Significant Advantage Over Lowland Teams,” Science Daily, Dec 21).

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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