As published in the International Society for Mountain Medicine Volume 6, Number 1, Winter 1996.
Bolivia and particularly La Paz, has been shocked these days by a determination of the South American Football Confederation, who by suggestion of the International Association of Football (FIFA), has decided that the World Cup Football playoffs cannot be carried out on Stadiums above 3000 m. of altitude, specifically in the city of La Paz. Putting aside reasonable arguments such as why keep calling it World Cup, we would like the opinion of world experts in sports, such as the members of the International Society of Mountain Medicine with respect to the following:
1) Can football (soccer) be practiced safely in the 50,000 people stadium of La Paz at 3600 m above sea level?
2) Is it reasonable to isolate high altitude residents from competing in their own natural habitat?
3) Are there any permanent lesions for sportsmen performing at high altitude?
4) When do we differentiate altitude from extreme altitude ?
5) Does high altitude affect sportsmen and sedentary people in the same way?
We have recently tested a Mexican Marathonist (female, 33 years old, weight 61 kilos) that came to La Paz in order to train at high altitude for one month, as previous marathonists have done before with successful results. On the same day of arrival, she was tested with a Modified USAFM protocol (mph/slope= 0/0,2/0,3/0,3/5,3/10,4/10,4/10,4/10,4/10), achieving a sub- maximal oxygen consumption (VO2=43 ml/Kg/min), reaching 7 METS and maintaining an intense rhythm at 4 MPH and 10% slope during the last 12 minutes. She preserved her respiratory quotient, starting at 0.92 immediately before exercise and reaching 1.04 in the most intense level. Her pulse increased to 151 bpm reaching 80 % of the sea level maximum calculated cardiac frequency. She could have continued with the test. We arrived to the conclusion that if a 33 year old marathonist is able to perform this test so successfully upon arrival, then football, that requires less permanent activity is feasible up to any altitude where it is practiced regularly by large populations such as in La Paz at 3600 meters above sea level. High altitude researchers go to extreme altitudes in order to study the effects of hypobaric hypoxia and sportsmen can't play football at 3600 m where millions of people live? We are aware that there are multiple undetermined factors affecting physical capacity during hypoxia, but in this matter, high altitude has to be differentiated from extreme altitude. From many years of experience we have noticed that high altitude sportsmen also have difficulties when going to perform at sea level. Some have ankle edema, are sleepy and their reflexes are diminished. It is interesting to note that Hoppeler concluded that "high altitude residents have a reduced VO2 max which is not corrected in acute normoxia", in the abstract 'Relating muscle structure and performance capacity to living and exercising at high altitude' during his presentation in the First World Congress on High Altitude Medicine and Physiology 1994. Football practice of high altitude sportsmen upon arrival at sea level needs further research.
We are aware that opinions will be varied, but
please be aware
that all human beings whether inhabitants of
sea level or the
high mountains are residents of the same planet,
and should be
considered the same, with the same rights and
Gustavo Zubieta Jr.
Gustavo Zubieta Sr.
High Altitude Pathology Institute (IPPA)
La Paz, Bolivia