Bolivia expert Miguel Centellas has some commentary.
Simon Romero had an excellent story in the New York Times yesterday about Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, fighting to defeat the high-altitude soccer ban I mentioned recently. I particularly like the lede (as well as the delightful image, above):
Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, donned a green jersey the other day, watched a llama sacrifice for good luck and flew to a snowy spot nearly four miles above sea level, where he scored the winning goal in a brief match pitting him and his aides against a group of mountain climbers.
It was a textbook lesson in Andean political theater, and the perils a globalized sport can meet when it comes up against a small country’s nationalist passions.
On the surface, Bolivia’s president was simply staging an amusing stunt to fight a ban on international soccer games at altitudes above 2,500 meters, or 8,200 feet.
It’s well known that Mr. Morales will play soccer against virtually anyone, from the foreign press corps to local squads in the hinterlands, to let off steam, and recently broke his nose doing so. But in fact, the ban, enacted last month by soccer bureaucrats in Switzerland, played right to Mr. Morales’ trademark populism, and gave him an opportunity to act as a unifier of his otherwise fractious country.
“Bolivia’s dedication to soccer cuts across the deep dividing lines in the country, which are economic, racial, regional and ideological,” said Jim Shultz, a political analyst in Cochabamba, in central Bolivia. “Fighting the ban is great domestic politics.”
A friend of mine who’s studied politics in neighboring Ecuador once told me that he felt the Ecuadorian national football team was the single greatest cohesive force that the nation has working in its favor. The game trumps race, class, politics — everything.
Two related books that I recommend highly: “How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization,” and, in the case of Bolivia and its “market dominant minority,” “World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability.”
Disappointing news for Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia: FIFA says no more international soccer games above 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) in altitude. So much for the legendary home field advantage courtesy of the rarefied Andean air.
Football’s governing body, Fifa, has banned international matches from being played at more than 2,500m (8,200ft) above sea level.
Fifa said the decision was made because of concerns over players’ health and possible distortion of competition.
The ruling was greeted with dismay in Latin America, notably in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, where games in La Paz are played at 3,600m (11,811ft).
Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales, vowed to lead a campaign against the ban.
Speaking after an emergency cabinet meeting, Mr Morales said the ruling amounted to discrimination.
“This is not only a ban on Bolivia, it’s a ban on the universality of sports,” he told reporters.
Mr Morales also said he would send a high-level delegation to Fifa’s headquarters in Zurich and called on other countries to join his campaign.
And for Spanish readers out there, here’s a story in Hoy Online, a daily paper in Quito, Ecuador, with the reaction from the mitad del mundo.
Some stuff of note:
— I’ve posted three new items over at Gridskipper of late.
— Here’s a license plate my brother Colin and I saw here in DC the weekend before X-mas. I wanna know who’s in charge of VA vanity plate obscenity screening. Someone is sleeping on the job. (Weird side note: a bumper sticker on this car featured the word “abortion” with a line through it and said “Slavery: it was legal, too.” Um, okay.)
— Culture Bully’s 10 Favorite Mash-ups of 2005 looks promising. (Especially the Flaming Lips/Snoop Dog joint.)
— This came out before X-mas, but it’s still interesting. Andres Oppenheimer asks: “Will Bolivia’s Morales follow good or bad role model?”:
Bolivia, which has an estimated 55 percent indigenous population, will enter a new era of majority rule following last weekend’s landslide election of Evo Morales, a leftist coca growers’ leader of Aymara descent. The big question is whether indigenous-ruled Bolivia will follow the steps of South Africa or Zimbabwe.