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FIFA's altitude ruling flames South American soccer rivalries

FIFA's altitude ruling flames South American soccer rivalries

Fans joined soccer officials from Andean nations Tuesday in blaming perennial South American soccer powers Argentina and Brazil for instigating FIFA's ban on games in high-altitude cities, fanning the flames of traditional sports rivalries across the continent.
Guido Loyaza, former head of the Bolivian soccer federation, told Bolivia's La Razon newspaper that "you don't have to look across the ocean" to find the "enemy" responsible for the ruling.
FIFA on Sunday decided to prohibit international matches above 2,500 meters (8,200 feet), citing health and safety concerns but angering Bolivians because it means a ban on major matches in their most important cities.
Many Bolivians are accusing Brazil and Argentina, whose teams have gasped and occasionally flopped at the 3,600-meter (11,800-foot) altitude of La Paz and in other high-altitude Bolivian cities.
Soccer officials in the two lowland nations, meanwhile, were only too happy to take the credit. Kleber Leite, vice president of the Brazilian club Flamengo _ which filed a formal complaint with FIFA after a February match with Bolivia's Real Potosi that was played in freezing rain at 4,000 meters (13,120 feet) _ crowed that the ruling was "a victory for humankind."
Bolivian President Evo Morales, an avid soccer fan, sought to downplay the international friction in the name of South American unity, a favorite talking point. His government announced Tuesday that Argentina would back their efforts to overturn the ruling.
"We are aiming to create South American unity, which was the dream of our ancestors," Morales said Tuesday. "But without sports, without football, there can be no South American unity."
The issue has incited Bolivia so much that the newspaper El Diaro carried 15 stories about it on its Web site. La Razon vowed to rally 1 million letters of protest to FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Bolivian talk radio haggled Tuesday over the air speed of a soccer ball kicked at various altitudes.
Morales has made it a matter of state, vowing to call the leaders of Argentina and Brazil and to convene a summit with Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, which are also affected by the decision seen here as a lowland conspiracy.
Morales called for city, state, and national governments excluded by the ban to meet June 6 in La Paz _ 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) above sea level _ for a summit billed as "Unity for the Universality of Sport."
Morales also called for his countrymen to play sports in the street on Wednesday to prove the value of high-altitude sport. The president himself will play a soccer match against Bolivia's international press corps at La Paz's Hernando Siles stadium.
In Colombia, Bogota Mayor Luis Eduardo Garzon, 56, promised to climb 3,300-meter (10,800-foot) Monserrate peak on Wednesday to show that high altitude poses no health danger.
His city, Colombia's capital, sits 2,650 meters (8,700) above sea level.
Soccer officials in Ecuador _ whose national team has long been slighted for its high-altitude home advantage _ have vowed to "defend to the death" their right to play in their capital Quito, at an altitude of 2,800 meters (9,200 feet).
The high-altitude nations will present their case at a June 14 FIFA meeting in Asuncion, Paraguay.
On the lowland side of the spat, the Argentina Football Association released a statement complaining that high-altitude competition caused "headaches, dizziness, nausea, gastrointestinal problems and fatigue."
Brazilian soccer great Pele on Monday recalled that he and his Brazilian teammates "always suffered" when playing high-altitude matches, according the Brazilian Web site GloboEsporte.com. "I don't know why they waited so long to make this decision."
Bolivian fans suggested their rivals were cowards.
"Even if it's 40 or 45 degrees (Celsius; 104-113 Fahrenheit), we'll play without saying a word. We don't say, 'Oh, the heat, the cold, the altitude,'" said Ismael Escobar, 51, discussing the ruling at streetside sandwich stand in La Paz.
"We're not like the Brazilians or Argentines, who just play in warm places, and not anywhere too tough. Bolivians will play wherever."
Bolivian students mocked the FIFA ruling by doing jumping jacks in the thin Andean air in front of Bolivia's presidential palace Tuesday.
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Associated Press Writers Jairo Anchique in Bogota, Colombia, Tales Azzoni in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and Debora Rey in Buenos Aires, Argentina contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-20 09:23 GMT+08:00