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Bolivia Cries Foul at Possible Opposition to La Paz

April 22, 1996

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ Bolivia’s 1993 victory over Brazil in the thin air and high altitude of La Paz was one of the biggest shocks in recent Latin American soccer history.

Not only did it end Brazil’s 40-game unbeaten run in World Cup qualifiers, the 2-0 win helped Bolivia clinch a place at the 1994 tournament.

Almost three years later, Bolivia may come to regret the victory, often cited as proof that they have an unfair advantage when playing in the Andean city of La Paz, located nearly 12,000 feet above sea level.

On May 31, FIFA will decide whether to ban Bolivia from staging international games in its capital, where visitors often suffer from altitude sickness and complain of being out of breath. Bolivia’s first home qualifier for the 1998 tournament is on July 7 against Venezuela.

Gathered at a Buenos Aires hotel Monday, Bolivia’s ``Altitude Commission″ said the country had a ``sovereign right″ to choose where to stage games.

``Thousands of foreigners visit Bolivia every year, but you never see a gringo on Lake Titicaca, at almost 4,000 meters, wearing an oxygen tank,″ said Julio Garratt, the Bolivian ambassador to Argentina.

The delegation said they would present their case to FIFA hours before the ruling. However, they lamented they had only been granted ``between seven and fifteen minutes.″

It’s not only the Bolivians who are against a possible FIFA ban. At a general assembly of the Ibero-American Sports Council, Fidel Castro said ``no severe problems that may have affected competitions in places of an altitude over 3,000 meters are known.″

French President Jacques Chirac, whose country will play host to the 1998 World Cup, has said it would be ``senseless″ to rule against La Paz.

Carlos de Meza, a member of the altitude commission, said La Paz, home to 1.2 million people, would sustain a huge cultural, social and economic blow if FIFA rules against it.

``The message is more than just soccer,″ de Meza said. ``A ban would have a negative impact on investment, tourism, staging international conventions, artistic events or meetings of foreign heads of state.″

``How can it be that while man is trying to extend his frontiers by flying to the moon, others are saying to the children of Bolivia that La Paz is an unsuitable place?″

Playing in La Paz, Bolivia was undefeated during the qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup. But when playing away from home _ nearer sea level _ it was 1-0-2, losing 6-0 to Brazil.

Since then, the Uruguayan Soccer Association has said it no longer wants to play in La Paz and Argentina coach Daniel Passarella has also said he would prefer another site.

Bolivian Sports Secretary Guido Meruvia, who said he was confident FIFA would not rule against La Paz, said he was tempted to turn the argument on its head:

``I could say the opposite: Why should we play in the heat and humidity of Buenos Aires, in the snow of Scandinavia or the pollution of other cities?″ he said.

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