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Lofty discussions | Morales’s maneuvering in Zurich earns reprieve for La Paz
Posted By John Turnbull On 6 July 2007 @ 13:40 In Bolivia,Latin America,Podcast | 2 Comments
Zurich, Switzerland | Is it safe to play football on the Andean altiplano or the Tibetan plateau? FIFA has not decided yet, but it continues to modify its judgment, originally decreed in May, that FIFA competitions shall not be staged above 2,500m (see Jun 15 ).
On Jun 27, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said medical consultations had influenced the governing body’s executive committee in raising the limit to 3,000m, thus excluding Bogotá, Quito and portions of Mexico from the high-altitude ban. In a convoluted statement at a Zurich press conference—see podcast below—Blatter said FIFA would only intervene in World Cup qualifiers. Qualifying in South America begins in September, by which time, Blatter said on Jul 5, the “topic … must be resolved in a very logical way .”
“We do not want to keep people from playing football,” Blatter has said on several occasions, making one wonder why FIFA has tried to devise a solution to a problem that does not exist. At the same Jun 27 press briefing at which he proposed a FIFA-sponsored conference in late October to consider scientific evidence on high-altitude sport—a conference now seemingly on the back burner—Blatter acknowledged that “this is not a scientific or medical decision, it is a sports/political decision.”
The political aspects triumphed the following day when Bolivian president Evo Morales jetted from Caracas, Venezuela, where he had been attending opening ceremonies of Copa América, to meet privately with Blatter at FIFA headquarters. Afterward, Morales appeared to have won a concession allowing FIFA matches to be played in La Paz. “The winner is our country, the winner is La Paz ,” Bolivian soccer chief Carlos Chavez exulted. The La Paz exception was made explicit on Jul 6.
As part of our third podcast, native Bolivian and Global Voices regional editor Eduardo Ávila  comments on Morales’s unaffected passion for the sport. Ávila recalls attending a barbeque when Morales was campaigning for the presidency. “He was a different person on the football field,” Ávila says. Morales picks out the number 10 jersey, likes to score and frequently provides the winning goal in his matches, whether by accident or design. “That’s one of his signatures. He wants to play football against journalists, play against ex–football players, play against kids from the street. That’s sort of a uniter.”
Whether the country is fully united by Morales’s lobbying on football remains in question. The nation, as Ávila notes, is divided ethnically among mestizo and the various indigenous communities (Aymara, Quechua, Guaraní) despite the rallying cry from the 1952 revolution, “Somos todos bolivianos” (see Andrew Canessa, “Reproducing Racism: Schooling and Race in Highland Bolivia,” Race, Ethnicity, and Education 7 [Jul 04]: 185–204). Morales himself is Aymara and cherishes his highland roots, although Canessa’s article on schooling in highland communities points to the gradual loss of Andean traditions due in part to a classroom quest for uniformity in thought and language. “The mountain spirits have left us,” mourns one young woman.
From the perspective of science, whether Bolivians maintain a physical advantage over opponents in competitive football at altitude is difficult to establish with certainty. Ávila posits that the benefit is more psychological. Bolivian players based abroad themselves must make the physical readjustment when playing in high-altitude games. Dwellers at high altitude, according to U.S. Olympic Committee physiologist Jay Kearney (see Mark Zeigler, “Altitude Sickness ,” San Diego Union-Tribune, Jul 4), face the reverse challenge of acclimatizing to venues at sea level.
Nevertheless, Estádio Hernando Siles in La Paz, at 3,636m, is known as El Nido del Condor (The Condor’s Nest) to accentuate the air of intimidation. And in the course of 11,000 years of human habitation in the high Andes, scientists suggest that native dwellers have developed higher concentrations of hemoglobin in the blood (Mark S. Aldenderfer, “Moving Up in the World ,” American Scientist 91 [Nov-Dec 03]: 542–49). Humans have evolved at low altitudes for the most part, making high-altitude life both a physiological and cultural adjustment.
To live permanently and thrive at high elevation, a person must have two things: a set of physiological adaptations to cope with the reduced availability of oxygen and a suite of cultural adaptations to cope with the harsh environment. These include, at a minimum, fire, effective clothing and a reliable set of tools for eking out a living. Hunting and gathering people, who were the first inhabitants of the high plateaus, also had to work out patterns of seasonal movement that minimized exposure to environmental hazards while simultaneously providing them with sufficient calories. (544)
Whether the cultural evolution encompasses an advanced capacity for scoring goals is another question.
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.”
SI.com 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.
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).
Beginning Jul 10 our podcasts will be broadcast biweekly, every other Tuesday, at 12 noon (Eastern time, USA) from WGSR  studios in north Atlanta, with our first guests Soccer in the Streets , the grassroots, urban-oriented soccer program launched in 1989. The e-mail address for questions, comments and show ideas is firstname.lastname@example.org . The podcasts will be available via RSS (link to podcast feed ) or live stream .
Article printed from The Global Game: http://www.theglobalgame.com/blog
URL to article: http://www.theglobalgame.com/blog/2007/07/lofty-discussions-moraless-maneuvering-in-zurich-may-earn-reprieve-for-la-paz/
URLs in this post:
 Jun 15: http://www.theglobalgame.com/blog/?p=256
 topic … must be resolved in a very logical way: http://uk.reuters.com/article/worldFootballNews/idUKL0500080320070705
 The winner is our country, the winner is La Paz: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story?id=442254&campaign=rss&source=soccernet&cc=5901
 Eduardo Ávila: http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/author/eduardo-avila/
 Image: http://www.theglobalgame.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/ggpod03.mp3
 Altitude Sickness: http://www.signonsandiego.com/sports/soccer/20070704-9999-1s4socpage.html
 Moving Up in the World: http://www.americanscientist.org/template/AssetDetail/assetid/28362;jsessionid=baa9...
 striking out at the restriction: http://www.globesports.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080317.wsptmaradona17/GSStory/GlobeSportsSoccer/?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20080317.wsptmaradona17
 High Anxiety: FIFA’s Altitude Ban May Be Its Most Hypocritical Move: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/tim_vickery/03/18/altidude.ban/index.html
 a death sentence for the universality of football: http://sports.yahoo.com/sow/news?slug=afp-fblwc2010latambolaltitude&prov=afp&type=lgns
 Patrick McSharry: http://www2.maths.ox.ac.uk/~mcsharry/
 High-Altitude Football Teams Have Big Advantage over Opponents: http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/21122007/3/high-altitude-football-teams-big-advantage-opponents.html
 Effect of Altitude on Physiological Performance: A Statistical Analysis Using Results of International Football Games: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/short/335/7633/1278
 High Altitude Soccer Teams Have Significant Advantage Over Lowland Teams: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071221094837.htm
 tweaked the high-altitude restrictions: http://sports.yahoo.com/sow/news?slug=afp-fblfifa&prov=afp&type=lgns
 WGSR: http://www.wgsratlanta.com/
 Soccer in the Streets: http://soccerstreets.org/
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