Altitude, Life-Risking, or Not? - The Ongoing Issue of Football in the Heavens

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Back about 8 years ago, from their sparkly-clean and comfortable offices in Switzerland, we saw international football governing body – FIFA – ban international matches taking place 25-hundred meters (or 8,200 feet) above sea level.

 

South America, specifically the western Andean nations of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and especially Bolivia, nearly waged war on the organization.  Total outrage igniting an uprising involving the affected population of that area (more or less 55 million), led by Bolivia's anti-imperialistic, environmentalist, and cocalero by blood, President Evo Morales, a football fanatic, who even dragged Diego Maradona into the issue - gaining support from "Don Diego" by playing a charity match together, up 12,000 feet in La Paz, with Diego stating, "if at 47 I can run up here, I don't see the issue" - perfect P.R. uppercut right back at critics...

 

This movement by the way, happening in Bolivia - a nation that sees regular issues carry on unresolved forever, with the population separated by anti-West vs pro-west, rich vs poor, natives who support the president versus those who don't... but when it came to football, immediate action was taken!  Another reason why this is simply more than just a game!

 

Out of the 25 highest cities in the world with populations over 100,000, only 5 aren't found up & down along The Andes.


And Bolivians would've been the ones most affected by this, since over half of their landlocked nation sits in the Altiplano Highlands... basically everything west of the more temperate city of Santa Cruz.


Peruvians were too, but their massive capital, Lima, sits near sea-level.

 

Ultimately FIFA's plan backfired, and no later than a year after, the ban was lifted, with FIFA stating it needed to better study and gather actual facts from credible medical sources, which, until this day has never been scientifically proven.

 

Now imagine if it would've been taken into effect...


Bolivia has been playing 3,640m up in La Paz for as long as the World Cup has existed, and only managed to qualify once out of 20 editions (in 1994, they also made the 1950 WC, but were cordially invited to).


Never did a Bolivian side win the Libertadores, they made the Semis 4 times, and Peruvians finished 2nd only twice.


Only 5 of a total 76 South American club competitions were won by teams located in high altitude.


Aside from, on occasion, beating Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina at home, even when Bolivia last hosted the Copa América they didn't win.

 

Truthfully, the only ones who really moan over this are us Brazilians, Uruguayans, and Argentinians - eastern Argentinians (obviously not those from or near the Andes themselves).


And what do these 3 countries have in common?  Well, perhaps the tremendous amount of pull in decision-making when it comes to policies in South America's local governing football body, the CONMEBOL.


I guarantee you, if it were the other way around... if Buenos Aires, Montevideo, or Rio were located high up in the mountains & Bolivian city La Paz or Ecuadorian capital Quito were down at sea level, this never even would've made it out of internet forums!

 

Just last week in the Libertadores, during Inter's 3-1 loss to La Paz club, The Strongest, an image made headlines of Brazilian MID Anderson, the former Man United, now back at Inter, being subbed out of a match and exhaustingly huffing on a mask from a portable oxygen tank...


Side note: in 2014, Anderson started a whopping 5 matches (last action he saw for Man United, 20 minutes in August vs Burnley).  I don't think the Andes played a role there!

 

If a bunch of badly-dressed Spaniards way back in the day were able to conquer the Inca Empire, without oxygen tanks, I think we can allow physically suitable athletes, to play two 45-minute halves of football.

 

The conclusion is simple.
Do we ban matches in Saudi Arabia due to heat, or Norway due to frigid temperatures?  No, as long as it's medically fit, people deserve to watch and play the beautiful game from whichever corner of this magnificently diverse and colorful planet they find themselves in!

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