01 July 2011

"Just scrap it all, and give us a rugby team," said Rodrigo.

I laughed.  "No, no," he insisted, "we Bolivians need to let go of the idea that we can play football. It hasn't been the same since they stopped letting us play games in La Paz."

Much of La Paz is 13,000 feet above sea level, an altitude that occasionally requires acclimatizion and medication, and is occasionally fatal to some hapless travellers. The Bolivian soccer team is notorious for trying to schedule games there, where they easily beat their panting, vomiting, weeping competitors.

In 2007, FIFA, soccer's worldwide governing body, banned games at altitude, thereby neatly disqualifying La Paz and sparking an enormous controversy within and without South America.  The ban and ensuing discussion was eventually shelved until 2009, when the Bolivian soccer team spanked Argentina so thoroughly that the controversy was re-ignited.  The rest of the soccer world seems to feel that Bolivia plays the games there on purpose because they have an innate acclimatization advantage.

High altitude is no joke.  At first, you may not be affected and you decide you are immune, and perhaps have a drink or light up a cigarette.  Then, perhaps, your stomach begins to roil and you wonder whether you had bad eggs for breakfast.  Then you feel wonderful for perhaps an hour, giddy and slightly high.  When your lips begin to turn blue, you know you're being affected with altitude sickness. Then comes the vomiting.  And that is without playing 90 minutes of a high-speed, high-intensity game.

From La Paz, June 2011
Edema never looks so pretty anywhere else.

Tonight, the Bolivian team played against their old foes, the Argentina team, and tied 1-1.  The game was in La Plata, at sea level. Nobody wept, fainted, or vomited, except perhaps some diehard Argentinian fans who had been convinced their team would run away with the first match.

There was no comment from either FIFA or our friend Rodrigo, but the Copa America still has a month of games to go.