Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Referee death puts matches at altitude under the spotlight

Referee death puts matches at altitude under the spotlight

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The Municipal Stadium in El Alto, Bolivia, located at 4,000m above sea level, where Bolivian referee Victor Hugo Hurtado died on Sunday after collapsing on the field during a local first division match. Aizar RALDES/AFP

Referee death puts matches at altitude under the spotlight

The death of a Bolivian referee officiating a match at more than 4,000m has reopened the debate about the safety of playing football at such altitude.

Victor Hugo Hurtado collapsed while refereeing a Bolivian first division match in El Alto, at 4,090m, between the local side Always Ready and visitors Oriente Petrolero.

He had suffered a cardiac arrest and was stretchered from the field before being taken to hospital, where he died following a second heart-attack. He was just 32.

The El Alto municipal stadium is the highest in the world that is home to a professional football team, according to a banner displayed outside the ground.

It is more than 400m higher than the El Hernando Siles stadium (3,660m) in nearby La Paz that is used by the Bolivian national team.

Always Ready’s club doctor Erick Koziner insisted altitude played no part in Hurtado’s death.

“There was no pulmonary edema, that is the first thing observed in altitude sicknesses before it passes into the cardiac system,” said Koziner after performing the autopsy.

Bolivia’s football federation president Cesar Salinas told Diez.com website that “people inside and outside who don’t like us will try to use this incident” against Bolivian football.

He insisted tests have previously “proved” playing at altitude “has no effect.”

One of Hurtado’s cousins, Orlando Herrera, told local media that the referee was used to altitude as he had previously lived in El Alto, once a sprawling La Paz suburb that has grown into it’s own city.

Pedro Saucedo, head of Bolivia’s refereeing commission, told Los Tiempos newspaper Hurtado had displayed “no signs of tiredness, nothing suspect” at half-time during the match. “He even told a joke.”

‘Inhuman’

Back in 2007, FIFA suspended all matches above 2,500m after some of Bolivia’s rivals in South America complained that the minnows – who have only qualified for the World Cup three times – were gaining an unfair advantage playing in La Paz.

A month later a special exemption was made for the “Condor’s Nest” in La Paz before the ban was overturned entirely a year later.

But that hasn’t changed opinions. Two years ago, Brazil superstar Neymar posted a picture on Instagram of him and his teammates wearing oxygen masks ahead of a match against Bolivia.

“Inhuman to play in these conditions. Pitch, altitude, ball . .. everything bad,” he wrote.

After the match, a 0-0 draw, Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus said he “felt a little tired . . . it wasn’t nice.”

Bolivia were briefly banned from playing in La Paz in 1993 after Brazil lost a 40-year unbeaten record in World Cup qualifiers in a 2-0 defeat to the plucky minnows. Brazilian Joao Havelange was the president of world football’s governing body, FIFA at the time.

And the subject came up again in 2009 after an Argentina side coached by Diego Maradona and starring Lionel Messi was humiliated 6-1 in a qualifier for the 2010 Word Cup.

Maradona was one of those to have criticised the FIFA ban two years earlier.

Whether playing at such an altitude is dangerous or not, there is no doubt that it provides Bolivia with an advantage.

Their record at home is leaps and bounds better than their efforts on their travels.

In World Cup 2018 qualifying, Bolivia lost every single away match, but at home they managed four wins and two draws from their nine games, even beating the mighty Argentina 2-0.

High-altitude pitches are not uncommon in the Andean country where Potosi’s two teams Nacional and Real play at 3,990m in the Victor Agustin Ugarte stadium, while San Jose play at the Jesus Bermudez stadium in Oruro at 3,731m.

While this tragedy will undoubtedly heighten concerns about the safety of playing at such altitude, Bolivia’s football federation has decided to act quickly to clear up any doubts.

“We have already taken the initiative to invite four specialists in the field to issue a very clinical and very medical report,” said Salinas.

MOST VIEWED

  • Ministry requests school opening

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on Thursday said it would request a decision from Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a small number of schools to reopen next month. Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said if the request is granted, higher-standard schools will reopen

  • Kingdom eyes India FTA, China deal set for August

    Cambodia is studying the possibility of establishing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with India to open a new market with the second-largest regional economy. This comes as an FTA with China is scheduled to be signed next month while similar negotiations with South Korea

  • Judge lands in court after crashing into alleged thief

    Sen Sok district police on Thursday sent a Koh Kong Provincial Court judge to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on manslaughter charges after he crashed his car into a woman riding a motorbike on Wednesday, killing her. District police chief Hour Meng Vang told The

  • Gov’t to boost Siem Reap tourism

    The Ministry of Tourism released the results of an inter-ministerial committee meeting concerning Siem Reap province’s Tourism Development Master Plan for 2020-2035 on Wednesday, revealing the government’s plan to improve the overall tourist landscape there. The meeting was attended by Minister of Tourism

  • Residents ordered to remove structures on Phnom Penh’s canal

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng has ordered authorities to act against the perpetrators who built houses along the Luo 5 canal in Meanchey district. The municipal administration plans to create a committee to solve the matter. The order was given on Wednesday while Sreng led

  • ‘On the offensive’: Cambodia to load up on loans to stimulate economy

    As the dust settles on the economy, Cambodia comes to grips with what needs to be done to turn the economy around, starting with a big shopping list for credit ‘We are going on the offensive,” Vongsey Vissoth, Ministry of Economy and Finance permanent secretary

  • Government set to make up for cancelled April holiday

    The government is set to make up for a five-day Khmer New Year holiday late this month or early next month. The holiday was earlier cancelled due to the onset of Covid-19. The announcement is expected on Friday as the government is studying a range

  • Families told to register for cash handouts

    The government has called on poor families to apply to commune authorities for evaluation to receive financial support during the Covid-19 crisis. A $300 million budget has been planned for implementation within a year. Ministry of Economy and Finance secretary of state Vongsey Visoth said this

  • Crumbling prices, rent ruffle condo segment

    The prolonged decline in international arrivals to Cambodia intensified by renewed Covid-19 fears has driven down condominium sales prices and rental rates in Phnom Penh, a research report said. CBRE Cambodia, the local affiliate of US commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE Group

  • Over $3M in traffic fines collected in two months

    Traffic police officers collected over $3 million in fines throughout the Kingdom during the past two months when officers strictly enforced the law in accordance with a May sub-decree, officials said. As incentives, law enforcement officers received between 200,000 and two million riel ($50 to $500) each. The figures