FIFA politics: Bolivia gets punished for its altitude

Altitude. You heard right. In a bizarre ruling, FIFA has banned matches played in high altitude venues which they say not only gives an unfair advantage to the home country but also poses a health risk to the visiting players. Matches can now only be held at a maximum height of 8,200 feet above sea level. This means that La Paz, Bolivia’s capital will not be able to host any qualifying matches because its elevation is 11,810 feet.
This ruling affects not only Bolivia but other South American countries like Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, which have a number of venues higher than the FIFA limit. Quito, Ecuador is at 9,816 feet, Bogota, Colombia is 8,661 feet, and Cuzco in Peru is at 11,154 feet. In fact, the only venue that Bolivia can now safely use for international matches is Santa Cruz which is at 1,364 feet.
There is no doubt that playing in the rarified air of La Paz and Quito have helped Bolivia and Ecuador win an overwhelming number of matches. The record at La Paz in Bolivia’s World Cup qualifiers since 1994 is 16 wins, 10 draws, and 4 losses. Ecuador’s record at Quito is even more impressive, 20 wins, 9 draws, and just the one loss. But FIFA’s decision is undoubtedly influenced by South American heavy hitters, Brazil and Argentina.
Brazil and Argentina since 1994 have only recorded 3 miserable wins while losing 7 matches when playing Bolivia and Ecuador away. Brazil was humiliated by Bolivia losing its first ever World Cup qualifier, 0-2 at La Paz on July 25, 1993. But Rob Hughes who wrote the article very rightly mentions that Brazil’s draining domestic league and over scheduling of tournaments plus the Italian Serie’s reluctance to part with their Brazilian imports left a savvy coach Alberto Carlos Parriera very little time for the acclimatization of the team.
Playing in thin air does have its risks just as playing in the hot sun can increase the chances of a heatstroke. Is FIFA going to ban qualifying matches in India where the temperatures can reach a sizzling 48-50 Celsius? The common sense precaution would be proper and adequate hydration. In the case of high altitude countries an adequate amount of time to acclimatize. The heat has not given India an entry into the World Cup and the Bolivians have not qualified since 1994. This is because you have to be a good team to win away games. Ecuador has done it because it wins enough away games against tough South American opposition to qualify for the two successive World Cups.
The Argentinians and Brazilians want a pass on this one as their players don’t have time from their grueling and crowded domestic and European seasons to acclimatize in La Paz or Quito. Sepp Blatter just obliged them. Just add Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru to Kenya, Greece, Iran, Chile, and many other countries that make up the soccer have nots.

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2 comments on “FIFA politics: Bolivia gets punished for its altitude
  1. Oddly enough, I saw Bolivia in a friendly against Ireland this weekend in Foxboro.
    I hope for their sake, they’re better at altitude.
    I can see both sides of this. On the one hand, it’s wrong to deprive them of any home-field advantage, but on the other hand, if the advantage is so decisive, it shouldn’t be a lopsided guarantee of their success, or an unfair drag on other teams’ hopes of qualification/advancement.

  2. In its Mission statement FIFA says it has a responsibility for”bringing hope to those less privileged” which is “the very essence of fair play and solidarity”. Having personal knowledge of the Bolivian peoples passion for football I urge FIFA, following it’s altitude ruling, to provide or facilitate the financial and technical resourcing of new stadium(s) in populous locations with suitable altitudes (eg near Sucre, Tarija). Please reply, thank you.

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