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Maradona slams Blatter over altitude ban

india Updated: Jun 29, 2007 19:30 IST

AP
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Soccer great Diego Maradona on Thursday slammed FIFA's decision to enforce a ban on high-altitude games as "crazy."

The former Argentina star, in the western city of Maracaibo for Argentina's 4-1 Copa America win over the United States, went on to call soccer's world governing body president Sepp Blatter a "fake" for denying Bolivia's capital La Paz the right to continue hosting World Cup qualifying matches.

"I think it's terrible they don't let Bolivia play in its country. It's crazy," said Maradona, who led the Argentine national team to its 1986 World Cup title.

Bolvia's President Evo Morales traveled to FIFA headquarters in Zurich on Thursday to meet with Blatter, a day after FIFA eased its ban on high-altitude games, but not enough to benefit La Paz, which sits at 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) above sea level.

FIFA changed its altitude restriction on World Cup qualifiers ban venues above 3,000 meters (9,840 feet), rather than 2,500 meters (8,200 feet).

After meeting with leftist Andean leader Morales, Blatter said FIFA could possibly relax its ban further, but did not elaborate.

Maradona, who shares Morales' leftist politics and is a friend of Cuba's communist leader Fidel Castro, said the FIFA ruling would "eliminate soccer (in Bolivia), which is what they want. We can't change the map."

He vowed to play a game in Bolivia with Morales in a show of solidarity with South America's poorest nation.

Maradona accused Blatter of hypocrisy over his 2000 visit to La Paz, which is commemorated with a plaque outside the city's Hernando Siles stadium quoting Blatter, a Swiss, declaring himself fearless of high altitude because he too was born between the mountains.

"He went to Bolivia to play the nice guy and then when he left he sent this message," Maradona said. "He's a fake." FIFA said last month that high-altitude games caused medical concerns for players and an unfair advantage for home teams used to playing in thin air.

South American soccer's governing body CONMEBOL protested after the FIFA executive committee announced its initial decision May 27 that would have eliminated international games in Bogota, Colombia, (2,640 meters; 8,700 feet above sea level) and Quito, Ecuador (2,800 meters; 9,200 feet).

In addition to La Paz, the Peruvian city of Cuzco also remains affected by the FIFA's revised altitude ceiling on World Cup qualifiers.