Lofty discussions | Morales’s maneuvering in Zurich earns reprieve for La Paz

  • FIFA on 15 Mar 08 affirmed its revised policy toward high-altitude football, recommending that club teams and competitions such as Copa Libertadores follow the guidelines as well. These guidelines require a week’s adjustment at elevations above 2,750m (9,000ft) or two weeks above 3,000m (9,800ft), effectively ruling out games in Quito and La Paz. Three days’ acclimatization are required above 8,200ft. Diego Maradona numbered among those striking out at the restriction. In a charity exhibition with Morales, Maradona, 47, said, “I speak for all of Argentina when I say that we do not fear the altitude. All of us have to play where were we were born, my brothers and sisters. Not even God can ban that—much less [Joseph] Blatter.” columnist Tim Vickery says that mountain-based teams could be the most severely affected (“High Anxiety: FIFA’s Altitude Ban May Be Its Most Hypocritical Move,” Mar 18):
    Should their locations force them to be excluded from international competitions? This surely infringes the concept of the universality of soccer, and also swims against the prevailing tide of South American integration.
  • Morales, in reaction to reports that FIFA would require an adaptation period of two weeks at matches above 3,000m, said on 14 Jan 08 that the governing body had devised a “way of cutting up the world … a death sentence for the universality of football.” FIFA denied that it had decided on acclimatization periods, which Bolivian Football Federation president Carlos Chavez said would be three days above 2,500m and one week above 2,750m.
  • 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. 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).
  • FIFA’s Executive Committee, meeting during the FIFA Club World Cup in December, tweaked the high-altitude restrictions yet again. The body will ban FIFA-sanctioned matches above 2,750m (9,022 ft) “without acclimatization.” Quito and La Paz sit above this limit, but it was unclear whether Blatter’s earlier agreement with Morales would remain in force. Before the resumption of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers in Jun 08, Blatter said that “we will have time to work out the exact application of this decision.”

Programming note

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