- By Sam duPontSam duPont is a Master's candidate at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School and focused his capstone research on transitional democracies and elections in fragile states.
We all learn in Political Science 101 that power is what matters in international relations. The same is true, it appears, in international soccer—or football, as the sport is known in most of the world. The two heavyweights of South American soccer, Brazil and Argentina, have been throwing their influence around at the 57th FIFA Congress (FIFA, the Federation Internationale de Football Association, is the world governing body for the sport).
After struggling in recent matches held at high altitudes, where air is thinner and oxygen absorption is lower, the two soccer superpowers successfully lobbied FIFA to ban international matches above 2,500 meters (8,202 feet).
The decision has been met with public outcry in Bolivia, where the capital, La Paz, sits 3,600 meters (11,811 feet) above sea level. Major street protests are planned for Thursday, and a media group just launched an initiative to send one million letters of protest to FIFA headquarters. Bolivian president Evo Morales, ever the populist, has taken up the cause, declaring it a violation of rights guaranteed by the United Nations:
He who wins at altitude, wins with dignity, he who fears altitude has no dignity.”
These sentiments have been echoed in Quito, Ecuador (2,800 meters; 9,186 feet), where Luis Chiriboga, an Ecuadorean soccer official, announced: “We will defend to the death our right to play football at [high] altitudes.” And now, Venezuela, Uruguay, and—more than a little disingenuously, given its role in lobbying for the change—Argentina are joining Morales against the high-altitude ban. This could get interesting.