Sitting in the middle of the Miraflores neighborhood of La Paz, Bolivia, the Hernando Siles stadium is home to several local professional football teams and is home to the Bolivian National Team. Even though the squad has finished at the bottom of the table for the past three World Cup qualifying process, the advantage that high altitude is said to give was one of the catalysts in the qualifying for the 1994 World Cup, Bolivia’s first and only appearance. Santa Cruz blogger E. writes in Voz Boliviana [ES], “In 1993, when we qualified for the World Cup USA '94, the entire country was in a state of joy, optimism, and nationalism. The feat was merited because we qualified by our own efforts.”
Recently, the international football governing body, FIFA, announced that international matches will no longer be permitted to be played in stadiums above 2500 m, putting many stadiums in Bolivia off-limits, and dashing the hopes for qualifying once again for the world’s biggest sporting event.
The decision mobilized the Bolivian government headed by President Evo Morales, a self-professed football fanatic, who sent a high-ranking delegation to Zurich, Switzerland to speak directly with FIFA President Sepp Blatter and declared it “Challenge Day“. Marches and demonstrations against the ban took place across the country. Bloggers also joined the united voice against this decision.
The decision is drawing the ire of Bolivians across the country and cutting across ideological lines. Andres Pucci [ES] of Santa Cruz, writes:
El deporte, sea cual fuese es algo universal, que se lo practica desde los lugares mas calientes y húmedos hasta los mas fríos y secos, desde lo mas bajo hasta lo mas alto.
Para algunos jugadores es también difícil jugar por ejemplo en Recife Brasil a las 1500 horas a mas de 40 grados Celcius, como subir a mas de 3500 metros es difícil para otros , pero es parte del deporte, de la visita que se hace a otro pueblo, lugar, región para disputar algún encuentro
The universal sport is played in the hottest and most humid places to the coldest and most humid to the lowest altitude.
For some players, it is also very difficult, for example, to play in Recife, Brazil at 3:00 p.m. at a tempreature of 40 degrees Celsius than it is to play at 3500 meters above sea level, which is difficult for others. This a part of the sport, to visit another country, place, or region to play a match.
Sergio Asturizaga, a Bolivian living in Brazil, blogs at Así como me ves me tienes [ES] and recalls a time that Blatter visited La Paz at a time when there was constant debate regarding matches at high altitude. Blatter reassured the Bolivian federation and lent his support for the stadium. To commemorate this visit and his statements, a large plaque was placed on the stadium exterior walls. Hugo Miranda of Angel Caido [ES] provides us with the text of these words that are found on the stadium wall.
I was born in the mountains.
My hometown in Switzerland sits across from the highest mountains in Europe. For that reason, I am not afraid of the altitude.
Joseph Blatter, FIFA President on February 11, 2000
Miranda lives in Oruro, which is one of the cities that would be affected. He draws conclusions to what this decision is really about by this ban:
A FIFA solo busca dinero y lamentablemente para que sus patrocinadores sigan desenbolsando esas cantidades de dinero necesita que los de siempre: Brasil, Argentina, Uruguay esten en sus torneos.
FIFA is only looking for money and unfortunately that in order that its sponsors continue to give out these amounts of money they need the same teams: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay to be part of the tournament.
Carlos Machiado Salas of Guccio’s [ES] writes:
Si quieren vetar los stadios de las ciudades de altura, donde hasta ahora no ha muerto nadie por el tema de la altura, deberían vetar también los stadios de Buenos Aires y Sao Paulo, donde al mes muere una persona a lo menos por la violencia de las barras bravas.
If they want to ban the stadiums located in high-altitude cities, where until now, no one has died because of the altitude, then they should also ban the stadiums in Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo, where at least one person dies per month due to the violence within the barra bravas (supporter groups).
If international football is outlawed from being placed in these places, what comes next? Willy Andres [ES] wonders if all sports might be affected from being placed at high altitudes. Gery M. of Nacido en Bolivia [ES] writes that this decision from FIFA might have other long lasting affects on the youth of these coutries, who might be discouraged from playing sports, which can help improve the quality of life in these countries.