Sajama and sister peaks

Player with twin volcanoes in background

The game

Altitude soccer

In La Paz Bolivia sits the High Altitude Pathology Institute where founder Dr. Gonzalo Zubieta-Calleja studies the impact of high altitudes on human performance.  In 2007 the International-Federation-of-Football Association (FIFA), the organization that runs World Cup Soccer, outlawed the playing of qualifying and championship games in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia.

The reason was that their stadiums are too high.  Bolivia's stadium is at 3,576 meters (11,732 feet) for example.  In 2001 Dr. Zubieta had set out to prove that soccer could be played at 6,452 meters (21,168 feet), which if true, would make 12 thousand feet a mere trifle.  He was successful, but the unfortunate reality was that only Bolivians could do it, and as other countries began to complain, the ban was put in place.

These are pictures from that first-ever game at over 21 thousand feet. The location? Mt. Sajama, one of several high mountains in Bolivia (see map).  Sajama is an ancient volcano, and today has a flat top, perfect for a nice intense game of running around chasing a ball.

Although the mountain is today accessible by helicopter, the first two teams to compete climbed their way up there (see picture).  The game was played on snow, and it is not openly recorded who won.  You do wonder what happened to balls that went over the side.

At the time, an informal challenge went out to any international team who might wish to compete with the Bolivians on Sajama.  So far that challenge has gone unmet.  If other countries' players wont compete at 12 thousand feet why would they compete at 21 thousand?

To the un-acclimated, walking is possible at 12,000 feet but not running.  Walking slowly is possible at 17,000 feet but not walking up stairs.  Sitting still and focusing on your breathing is possible at 21,000 feet but not movement.  Let the games begin.

Players on their way to the field


A goal saved
Sajama reflected in clear mountain lake

Mountain wildlife