Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Footballers too high to play

Whilst we're talking football have you seen the latest proposals by Fifa, who are suggesting that football can only be played below a certain altitude? Fifa are saying that games will not be allowed over 2,500m above sea level because of concerns for health and the difficulty players have if they are not used to the thinner air - thus distorting the competition.

Of course, what this means is that some Latin American countries will find that some, or even all, of their stadiums are over the limit. The capital of Bolivia, La Paz, stands at 3,600m above sea level and so will find itself out in the cold should these rules come into force. The Bolivian press have been blaming Brazil, who they claim lies behind the moves to ban games at high altitude. One Brazilian club, Flamengo, complained after scraping a draw at Real Potosi in a Libertadores Cup game in February. Flamengo's vice president said he thought the ruling was "a victory for humankind". Steady on.

Evo Morales described the actions of Fifa as "shady" and will be hosting an emergency conference of twenty nations to debate what to do about the ban stating "We want to stop this injustice being committed because he who wins at high altitude, stands tall... there shouldn't be any fear about playing sport at altitude," In fact, Bolivia recently played the world's highest game of football, although they may wish to keep this quiet as two players didn't even reach the pitch due to altitude sickness and it lasted only twenty minutes each way.

One Ecuadorian official said "We'll defend to the death our right to play football at altitudes above 2,500 meters, and the right to play in Quito [2,800m]."
Peru's capital Cuzco is at 3,500m above sea level and Colombia's capital Bogota is at 2640m. The local mayor of Bogota, in one of those typical displays of pointless machismo, has vowed to climb a local mountain to show that altitude holds no dangers. Well, if you must old chap, although I don't see what good that will do.

Others have argued that in order to be fair Argentinian and Brazilian grounds should be also ruled out for being too hot and humid. Perhaps we could Man U for being too boring whilst we're about it? Although on second thoughts this escalation is bound to lead to mutually assured destruction - best not to rule people out just because of where they play.

Altitude is, of course, a real problem if you're not used to it. The thin air makes breathing difficult, particularly whilst exercising or drinking alcohol - but the idea that the lower lieing (and as it happens richer) nations can find "reasons" to debar their neighbours is irritating to say the least (one paper, La Razon, describes the decision as "futbol apartheid") and there are reports of a 20,000 strong demonstration in La Paz against the ruling.

At the end of the day if it was Brazil and Argentina that had the higher altitude there is no way this ban would have been imposed.

There is no news as yet as to what Castro and Chavez have to say on the matter...

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