Soccer-FIFA swallows defeat to Salvador's street sellers

SALVADOR, Brazil, June 28 Sat Jun 28, 2014 2:00pm EDT

SALVADOR, Brazil, June 28 (Reuters) - There have been plenty of big victories at Salvador's Fonte Nova arena in this World Cup but Rita Santos was celebrating one of her own long before the tournament had even kicked off.

Santos is President of the Baianas Association - or women from the state of Bahia - who sell a fried local delicacy named Acaraje on the streets of Salvador.

The much-loved traditional fritter-like dish of beans, sauces and shrimp has been served up by Baianas around the stadium for almost 50 years, with roots that stretch back to the large slave population that gives Salvador its African heritage.

But Santos had a fight on her hands to ensure those women, whose street presence is synonymous with the Salvador scene, would continue to provide the backdrop once the World Cup and its giant corporate food partners came to town.

She was told FIFA would only deal with big sponsors and local companies and daily letters to argue her case went unanswered. Eventually a petition with some 17,000 signatures and the support of former Brazil striker come politician Romario, ensured the world's soccer governing body listened.

"The FIFA marketing director came to talk to me, saying, 'we don't want a fight with the Baianas. You can have your spot back at the stadium in 2014," Santos, dressed in all white African-style dress and headscarf, told Reuters, whilst preparing the day's first lot of Acaraje at her street stall.

The breakthrough came before the Confederations Cup in 2013 and meant Acaraje would go on sale for the world's visitors inside the Fonte Nova arena alongside more illustrious products.

"The most important achievement is that we opened a door with FIFA," Santos said, as American tourists queued for snacks.

The achievement set the precedent for street vendors of other local street snacks such as Tapioca or Tropeiro Beans to be served at arenas such as Belo Horizonte's Mineirao stadium.

"We opened a door for other national traditions to face FIFA and be part of a tournament. I hope that in Russia, who will host the next World Cup, FIFA will think about their traditions before imposing their guidelines," Santos said. (Editing by Nigel Hunt)

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