Maradona visits Bolivia to speak out against FIFA altitude ban
March 17, 2008 - The Associated Press

LA PAZ, Bolivia: Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona believes a FIFA ban on high-altitude international matches is "ridiculous," and will play a charity game Monday with President Evo Morales in the thin air of the Bolivia's mountain capital.

"It's ridiculous that they want to take away Bolivia's chance to play on its own soil," Maradona said told reporters Sunday at the presidential palace in La Paz. "God has given each of us our place, and we have to respect that."

At a meeting in Zurich on Friday, soccer's governing body ratified a rule requiring players to acclimate for at least a week before international games above 2,750 meters (9,000 feet), and two weeks for matches higher than 3,000 meters (9,800 feet).

With matches often scheduled within days of one another, the rule virtually bans games at those altitudes. FIFA said it was concerned about negative health effects on players unaccustomed to thin air.

Morales, a soccer fan, has lead a spirited campaign against the ban, even playing a game at 6,000 meters (19,700 feet) on the icy slope of an Andean peak to prove the game could be played anywhere.

The president admitted he'd been practicing for the match against one of the game's all-time greats Monday at Hernando Siles Stadium in La Paz, which sits some 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) above sea level.

Maradona will lead a team of retired Argentine stars, while Morales will play center forward for a squad of retired Bolivian stars. Proceeds of the game will go to help victims of catastrophic flooding in Bolivia's eastern lowlands.

Maradona called the ruling a "political" decision by FIFA president Joseph Blatter , who "has never played soccer. He's never kicked a penalty kick," he said. "Now he's playing with the passion of the people."