Bolivian president want to "nationalize' football
September 12, 2009 - USA Today

By Paola Flores, Associated Press Writer
LA PAZ, Bolivia — Bolivian president Evo Morales said Friday he wants to "nationalize" football in the South American country, a move which would go directly against the rules of FIFA -- the world governing body of the sport.

The populist president was speaking to reporters in a central region of Bolivia two days after Bolivia was beaten 3-1 by Ecuador in a South American World Cup qualifying match. Bolivia and Peru are the only countries in South America that have been eliminated from any chance of reaching next year's 32-team tournament in South Africa

"I've said that some (football) officials live off of sports," Morales said. "I feel that sport has to be nationalized, especially football. What better thing than the intervention of the state?"

Morales, widely known as an avid football fan, is tapping into an issue that is sure to increase his popularity -- improving Bolivia's weak national team

"We're sorry about how our team played in qualifying," Morales added. "Until now, football is a private entity -- autonomous -- led by sports personalities. But we're not getting any good results. I understand that some (football) officials don't know anything about the game. How can they be leaders in the sport?"

FIFA rules prohibit political interference in the sport.

FIFA suspended neighboring Peru last year after the government refused to recognize the election of the president of the country's football federation. FIFA lifted the suspension a month later.

FIFA has also been in conflict with countries like Iraq, Kuwait, Poland and Spain. FIFA says it has "increasingly noticed that the affairs of member associations are being influenced by third parties."
Ramiro Tapia, the minister of Sports and Health, immediately tried to soften Morales' words.

"One should think about improving. We're not talking about intervention," he said. "The state will cooperate totally regarding this kind of change."

Last year FIFA imposed a ban on playing matches at high-altitude venues. The Bolivian capital of La Paz is located at 3,600 meters (11,800 feet). Morales called the rule "deplorable" and a violation of human rights and sharply criticized FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

FIFA later lifted the ban.
Despite Bolivia's poor play in qualifying, it managed to humiliate Argentina 6-1 in a match on April 1 in La Paz. Argentina coach Diego Maradona blamed the loss partially on the altitude, though earlier he was a strong defender to Bolivia's right to play its matches in the thin air of La Paz.