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FIFA, go home – but first try an acarajé and pay a taxi fare

Francisco Vargas is a humble taxi driver in Vitória, the capital city of the Espirito Santo state in Brazil. For the past 40 years he has been working at a taxi stand in front of the Estadio da Desportiva in the Cariacica neighbourhood. He makes his living by driving an average of 16 customers per day.

However, because the Estadio da Desportiva has become the Australian team’s training base for the World Cup, Francisco’s taxi stand has been relocated to a street behind the Estadio. The Estadio is now a “FIFA zone”, and nothing or nobody can be in its way. A FIFA employee just replaced the taxi stands signs by a sign of “no parking or stopping anytime”.

The damage was immediate: Francisco lost 40% of his daily customers.

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This is the type of minor intervention in daily life that has made Brazilians very angry at FIFA – and with the Brazilian government, because it helped the parliamentary approval of the World Cup General Statute, a bill that allows FIFA to modify Brazilian laws and cultural traditions, making minor but also major alterations in Brazilians’ lives before and during the event.

One example of these changes is the reintroduction of the sale of beer and alcohol in Brazilian stadiums. Alcohol has been banned from the country’s stadiums since 2003. This ban came after years of academic research and activist struggle. Even if considering the need for a multifaceted approach to football violence, the government, the judiciary and researchers such Dr Heloisa Reis from Universidade Estadual de Campinas understood that limiting alcohol during professional matches would help the difficult task of tackling stadium violence in Brazil.

Nevertheless, in a total act of disrespect for Brazil’s laws, alcohol came back to the “arenas” for the World Cup. FIFA, which has strong ties with the beer industry, pushed the Brazilian government hard, and in 2012, the Brazilian president finally signed a law that allowed alcohol back in World Cup stadiums. FIFA considers alcohol to be “part of the World Cup culture”.

FIFA demands respect for its “culture” while trying to disrespect a country’s dearest cultural symbols and traditions. The history of the acarajé and the Baianas in Salvador is a good illustration. But this time, the Brazilian people won, and FIFA had to adjust its requirements in order to “swallow” this traditional food embedded in the culture of the Bahia state and football customs.

Acarajé is a dish made from peeled black-eyed peas formed into a ball and then deep-fried in dendê palm oil. It is a hot spicy snack that is found anywhere in the streets of Salvador, the capital city of Bahia, in Brazil’s northeast. The Baianas (Bahia native women) dress in their typical candomblé dress, sit in their small kiosks on Salvador’s streets, and make and sell acarajé on the spot – charging around A$3 each.

Baianas used to make and sell acarajé in the Fonte Nova Stadium in Salvador – they have done so its opening in 1951. It is a tradition passed from mother to daughter through generations of families who make a living by selling this street food. If you go to a Brazilian city and walk its streets, you’ll quickly notice how many Brazilians earn a living selling food and other goods on the streets. It is an important part of the local economy that can’t be simply ignored.

However, during the World Cup, FIFA becomes the owner of the stadiums and their surroundings. There is a “FIFA zone” that goes two kilometres around the venues. Inside these “occupied zones”, FIFA only allows its sponsors’ merchandise to be displayed and sold. No more acarajé or local food – if you’re from overseas and travelled to lovely Salvador with its streets full of colonial history to watch Netherlands beat Spain, instead of tasting the delicious local food, FIFA would dictate that you can only eat a Big Mac or a Happy Meal.

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However, FIFA would never have expected the reaction of the Baianas. When the Fonte Nova stadium was about to reopen after being renovated for the 2013 Confederations Cup, Rita Maria dos Santos, the president of the Association of Baianas Acarajé and Porridge vendors (ABAM) heard that FIFA wouldn’t allow them to work inside or close to the new stadium.

Rita quickly started to email the authorities until she was contacted by Change.org. Working with the website, she put together an online petition which quickly garnered international attention.

With 17,000 signatures, Rita pushed the Brazilian government to help their cause. Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian president, was personally involved with the acarajé issue. FIFA had to step back. Even with restrictions imposed by the FIFA standards – such as not using nailpolish (“is McDonald’s under the same restrictions?”, Rita asks) – Baianas are currently selling their delicious acarajés in the Arena Fonte Nova.

Stadium names are also other hard question for Brazilians to cope with. Brazilians have been calling their football stadiums “estadios” since they were built, “estadios” being the Portuguese word for stadiums. Now FIFA not only calls them “arenas”, but also wants people to refer to them in a standardised way.

The most notorious case is the stadium in Brasilia, the Estadio Nacional de Brasilia Mané Garrincha. Garrincha is an icon of Brazilian football. Twice world champion with the Seleção (in 1958 and 1962), Garrincha’s memory lives on in the heart of Brazilians (he died in 1983). He was the best player in the 1962 campaign after Pelé got injured and wasn’t able to play. Garrincha, with his amazing dribbling skills, represents the purest tradition of Brazilian football.

Garrincha.

However, the local football federation, controlled by very conservative “suits”, did not want Garrincha’s name associated with the stadium. It was only after a long battle, which involved civil society pressure and the national parliament passing a bill, that this new stadium could be named after Garrincha.

Nonetheless, FIFA does not want people using “Mané Garrincha” during the events it organises. FIFA wants all stadiums following a standard. It wants the stadium simply called Estadio Nacional de Brasilia.

The list of FIFA “invasions” go on. As Eric Winton reveals in his latest New Millennium newsletter, FIFA’s profit for the Brazil World Cup will reach US$2 billion – 66% more than the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. FIFA, its workers and partners do not pay any tax while working in Brazil.

Brazilians will pay the full bill, however, and are not happy with that. A few, such as the Baianas led by Rita dos Santos (curiously, the mother of Felipe, the current Flamengo goalkeeper) organise peaceful but firm protest actions against these cultural and economic invasions. Others go to the streets, and display angry slogans and chant against FIFA, the federal and state governments.

However, demonstrators have been facing unprecedented violence and repression from the police and the security forces during the World Cup. Their basic human rights have been disrespected every day while the tournament goes on.

Others, such Francisco Vargas, the taxi driver from Vitoria, act differently. Aware that FIFA will not pay his monthly bills, he has returned to his former taxi stand. If someone says that parking there is now forbidden and tries to book him, he will play dumb, pretending he hasn’t understood what is going on. It looks like he has already learnt a few cultural lessons from the Australians who are in his city.