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Monday, May 28, 2007

FIFA Bans Games Over 2500 Meters

Yesterday, FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter issued a new decree: No more football matches at heights greater than 2500 meters. This new rule will impact two countries in particular: Bolivia and Ecuador. To a lesser degree, Peru will be affected. Bolivia and Ecuador have enjoyed a significant home field advantage when playing in the high Andean altitudes of each respective country.

President Evo Morales of Bolivia has decided that the matter required an immediate Cabinet meeting. Bolivia has to qualify from the very difficult South American group, and has only featured in the World Cup on one occasion: 1994 in the USA. Playing at higher altitudes than 2500 meters has always been their trump card. In a similar fashion, Ecudaor has used lofty plateaus to assist them to qualify for the last two World Cups. In poorer countries, the World Cup brings significant revenues and pride to their citizens. Losing the ability to play in certain high altitude stadiums will significantly impact their footballing futures.

Apparently, a medical study was cited by FIFA President Blatter. But to the best of my recollection, nobody has ever been seriously injured due to altitude in either Bolivia or Ecuador. In fact, the Argentines used to have a separate team to train for high altitude games in South Americam competitions. It was part of the allure of playing against nine other diverse countries. Some who were in summer, others in winter, and some, as the case of Bolivia and Ecuador, who played at high altitudes.

Often in soccer, we say that the "12th man" are the fans in the stands. In this case, #12 are the beautiful cities high up in the Andes. One hopes that FIFA will overturn this decision after proper reflection.

Note:

After meeting with President Evo Morales, along with numerous complaints from the Andean nations, President Blatter and FIFA have issued a new ruling about soccer at altitude. La Paz, Bolivia will be exempted. But most venues over 3000 meters will not be able to host qualification games.

For the complete ruling, which still has to be ratified by CONMEMBOL, please click here.

1 comment:

Sergio Ruiz-Mier said...

Football has been played in La Paz at 3,600 meters above sea level for over 100 years. Nobody ever complained until Bolivia beat Brasil 2-0 in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers. Since then, there has been a coordinated attack masterminded by the Brasileans to ban international games at high altitude.

One little mentioned fact is that most of Bolivia´s football team is made of players that don´t live in La Paz. The either play abroad or in teams from Santa Cruz. This is due to the outstanding soccer academy called Tahuichi which is based in Santa Cruz.

When the Bolivian team plays an international match in La Paz, the Bolivian players are subject to exactly the same altitude effects than the other players.

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