As a fan, what can you do if league officials have shut down your club’s stadium over security concerns? In Bolivia, you can hold the entire team hostage.
El Alto is a rapidly growing city located in the greater metropolitan area of La Paz. The population is made up largely of indigenous people groups that have moved to the city from the countryside in search of better work opportunities. The city has also grown in influence following massive social protests in 2003 that forced then-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to resign and flee the country.
La Paz FC is a young club that has grown to become the third most-popular club in the area (after The Strongest and Bolivar). They play their home games in the Estadio Los Andes, also known as Estadio Cosmos 79, which has a capacity of 10,000. At an elevation of more the 13,000 feet, it’s one of the highest stadiums in the world.
The Condor Men have played two matches at Cosmos 79 in this year’s Apertura tournament without major incidents, but that didn’t stop LFPB (Bolivia’s FA) officials from banning the stadium in response to a police report that indicated the ground “doesn’t meet necessary security conditions.”
Closing Cosmos 79 would force La Paz FC to play home games across town at the much larger Estadio Hernando Siles, which is inconvenient for fans from El Alto, not to mention reducing opportunities for local businesses during home games.
Incensed over the measure, an organized group of fans staged a protest Tuesday in which they locked the entrance to the club’s facilities, holding the entire squad hostage, including coaches and club officials (a total of 43 people). The players were kidnapped for over four hours and finally released a little after 10 p.m., following negotiations with local authorities.
According to El Alto’s sports director, Edgar Maraz, “this is a hard blow for our city. This is discrimination, because we don’t see a reason why our stadium should be banned. The universality of football isn’t being respected.”
The mayor of El Alto, Edgar Patana, reported that he had personally received assurances from populist president Evo Morales that the city would soon have a stadium that meets all of the necessary requirements to stage league matches. The Bolivian government is planning to help the club fund the construction of two new tiers of stands and other needed upgrades.
League officials also clarified their position on the stadium, indicating that it would only be banned for “high risk” matches against the league’s most popular clubs, which amounts to five matches a year. That’s not likely to appease the fans, who would like to see all their home games played at Cosmos 79.
La Paz FC went ahead with their scheduled home game against San José yesterday—across town at Hernando Siles. They won 1-0, the team’s first win of the season (they’re 11th in a 12 team league, with 5 points in 7 matches). Maybe the fans should kidnap them more often?