Sepp Blatter joined with the FIFA executive committee on Saturday to reintroduce a ban on matches played at altitude without "adequate time to acclimatise" - a version of this ban was proposed in June but, on that occasion, FIFA repeatedly backtracked before shelving its little ruse in the face of popular unrest at the decision.
When externally analysing a corrupt edifice, even the most peripheral of institutional acts might reveal factors from the hidden agenda. This one little Reuters release is a mine of valuable information and it is little wonder that FIFA have chosen to avoid any mention of this major change in the rules on the FIFA web homepage preferring instead, for example, to run a poll on "What has surprised you most so far at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2007?" (answer: "Its utter irrelevance, but thank you for asking").
As in all soap operas, it is firstly necessary to provide some background to the plot so far.
In February, Flamengo of Brazil made a complaint about having to play a Copa Libertadores match in Bolivia at altitude because "it puts players lives at risk". By the summer, the regional complaint had become global and, as in all instances of centralisation of power, inappropriate decisions were made to inappropriate agendas which bore no relation to the actual situation on the ground (whatever altitude that ground might be). By June, Blatter produced the initial ban set at 2500 metres above sea level (masl). Following representations, protests, political considerations but, with no rumours of any kickbacks at all, the threshold was raised to 3000masl. Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, called on the help of Chile's president, Michelle Bachelet, and she visited Blatter in person to argue Bolivia's case while visiting Switzerland. This was a major positive advancement in relations between Bolivia and Chile with their antagonistic history. By bending to the wishes of Bachelet, Blatter would have been able to reduce political tensions in the region which, seemingly, is one of the global agendas that FIFA (and UEFA for that matter) frequently stomp with their outsized boots. Initially, Blatter agreed and up went the threshold to 3600masl - just high enough to allow matches to be played at La Paz which sits at that very height.
Both the initial ban and the embarrassing climbdown were made against the backdrop of last summer's Copa América and, as intended, created political tensions at the tournament with the hosts Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador lining up on one side and FIFA, Colombia and the USA choosing the right wing corner. Blatter is antisocial in the degree of control that FIFA exerts over the marketing of its own events and to deliberately destabilise a tournament taking place in the birthplace of the Bolivarian Revolution was an undoubtedly political act. The opening ceremony became a political show of strength with media blackouts in the US, interrupted match coverage in Venezuela and Chávez being flanked by Morales and Maradona in the stadium making it quite clear that both the left and the right were using the competition politically.
The ban, both then and now, is entirely arbitrary on other levels. But, worse still, it is an ENTIRELY political act. Lets check it out.
The most important point to be made here is that there is absolutely no scientific evidence indicative of a causal link between altitude and health risk at these heights. Playing sport is a risky business anyway and choosing the performance of sport at height is an arbitrary threshold of invalidity. Moreover, by repeatedly adjusting the apparently safe altitude threshold, FIFA are clearly demonstrating that their decisions are not being based on the marvels of modern science. It is either safe to play at 2500masl according to FIFA's "science" or it isn't - it isn't a negotiable fact if you are coming strictly from the medical angle. By expanding this ruse with the "acclimatisation" issue, FIFA are further muddying the medical waters while effectively forcing a ban through as no team will be able to visit the Andes more than a couple of days ahead due to club or other international commitments.
And, why select altitude? Clubs and nations make use of and abuse a whole range of advantages when playing at home. Heat, playing in a war zone, frozen pitches, pollution, wind, pitch dimensions, the watering of pitches, pitch quality and gradient etc etc etc. I mean, why is it any less of an advantage for Turkey or Greece to host Euro 2008 Qualifiers when it is 96 degrees in the shade compared to Perú, Bolivia or Ecuador playing at an altitude that THEY are used to? Home advantage is supposed to be about, well, home advantage. By arbitrarily choosing one advantage for banning, FIFA is doing a buffoonery thing. Or is it?
The new ban has been set, arbitrarily as I have said with respect to the science, at 2750masl. But arbitrary is the last thing that the 2750masl is! There were originally five countries affected by the initial 2500masl ban - Ecuador, Bolivia, Perú, Mexico and Colombia. Left wing Quito (2800masl) and La Paz both fail the test and, consequently, no representatives of Ecuador or Bolivia will be allowed to play at home. Meanwhile Perú, whose lowland coastal regions have been devastated by natural disaster, will be prevented from playing in Cusco (3400masl). This obviously has no link whatsoever to Perú's audacity at putting on trial former US puppet, Alberto Fujimori, for corruption linked to the infrastructural frailties that magnified the disaster. However, by astonishing good fortune, the US client state Colombia comes in just under the new threshold with Bogotá peaking at 2640masl while the club Toluca in that other US client state Mexico comes in 2680masl.
It is obviously no surprise that the global game is run to a globalisation agenda. Think back to Uzbekistan being denied a rightful place at the last FIFA World Cup to enable Trinidad And Tobago to qualify - a double whammy which enabled an oil-rich state to replace a left wing dictatorship while also allowing Jack Warner, president of much of the western footballing world, to run his World Cup ticket scam while the players still await payment (once again, with no indication of anything suggestive of kickbacks to FIFA). There are numerous other examples. Think last year's arbitrary banning of Iran for "having surnames indicative of terrorism" or some such nonsense or check the manner of referee decision making in matches involving the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Meanwhile, to help celebrate the massive benefits bestowed by the US surge in Iraq, the national football team was allowed to win The Asia Cup courtesy of FIFA and Saudi Arabia. The marketing blitz roared: "The invasion must have been a success as the national team is overperforming on an international stage". This cozy image of a nation reunited and renewed was, unfortunately, cruelly shattered when several members of the squad disappeared after a recent match in Australia and are said to be seeking asylum from their newly free oil-economy.
On a football level, these rulings matter. Aside from the Big Two, there is a very competitive nature to all South American World Cup Qualifiers and Copa Libertadores matches and the denial of home advantage to two of the ten nations is a major competitive advantage to Paraguay and Colombia in particular. No Bolivian team has ever qualified for a World Cup (although they were invited along in 1950) and neither Ecuador nor Bolivia have ever won anything at either club or international level. The targeting of lower tier representatives is the common template across the footballing world - we posted last week about the highly selective nature of the UEFA rigged match "inquiry" (see: http://footballisfixed.blogspot.com/2007/12/psychopaths-need-nannies.html). Bolivia are ranked 108 in the world and Ecuador come in 56th and Argentinian journalist Gonzalo Bonades is surely correct when he states: "This is just another example of how the wealthy bully the poor just because they have the power to do it". Interestingly, it is understood that the non-existent G14(18) made representations to FIFA regarding the impacts on their property of being expected to play at altitude just days prior to events marketed at a club level - Manchester United prefer the direct route with Carlos Tevez "electing" to get himself sent off just 11 minutes into Argentina's recent match in Bogotá!
FIFA exists to govern the world game apolitically and with integrity. It evidently fails to achieve either of these aims although now is neither the time nor space to fully expand these particular arguments.
It is the time, however, to ask why the FIFA executive committee is able to repeatedly find copious amounts of time to discuss such an irrelevancy when, right in front of their privileged eyes, there are more important issues at large?
Such as the issues of racism, gambling impacting upon outcome, corrupt players and referees, mafia ownership, the economic enslavement of many African players, political interference, matches being bought and tournaments being corrupted, the widespread use of Performance Enhancing Substances, the equally widespread corruption at all levels of our beloved FIFA family...
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