The international governing body of football, FIFA yesterday slammed attempts by unknown elements to block Al Jazeera Sport channel’s World Cup transmission and said it would fully support the television station to locate and prosecute the culprits.
Al Jazeera Sport, which has exclusive World Cup transmission rights for the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, yesterday said it switched satellites to avoid the interference but that didn’t help as these transmissions also suffered. The TV station even switched to a Hot Bird satellite.
Observers said this was the first time hackers had become active and targeted the broadcast of as coveted a sporting event as the football World Cup.
Millions of football fans across the MENA region were deprived of live action from the opening game of the month-long tournament on Friday and during yesterday’s fixture between Argentina and Nigeria.
The transmission of the first half of yesterday’s match was marred by disruptions, frustrating soccer fans across the region immensely as they were eager to watch Argentina in action, especially as World Player of the Year Lionel Messi was playing.
Following Friday’s disruptions, Al Jazeera Sport sought FIFA’s permission and yesterday launched a free-to-air channel (Channel 2) to broadcast the matches. This channel will be operating today also.
Al Jazeera Sport said its signal was deliberately jammed on Nilesat and Arabsat satellites in an act of piracy.
Viewers were faced with blank or frozen screens when they tried to watch the opening game between Mexico and South Africa on Friday.
Al Jazeera’s signal returned in the second half of the match, but the quality was patchy, Al Jazeera.net reported yesterday. Some commentary for the game also appeared in the wrong language.
“We apologise for the interruption that happened, it was because of satellite interference from an unknown source,” Nasser Al Kholeifi, managing director of Al Jazeera Sport, said.
He said he was astonished that the World Cup signal was blocked because it is “not a political programme but a sporting event…We will do whatever we can to find whoever was responsible”.
But viewers across the MENA region, including Egypt and Palestine, were furious over not being able to watch the matches.
Egypt-based satellite company Nilesat is very popular in the MENA region since it provides access to a number of Arabic language channels.
The company said it would take all measures necessary against such an irresponsible act (interference) that violates all international laws and norms.
The company denied allegations that it was blocking Al Jazeera’s telecast of the opening game between South Africa and Mexico. The blockage was caused by unknown sources, the firm reiterated.
Meanwhile, the chairman of Egypt’s TV and Radio Association, Osama Sheikh, told the media they would take legal action against Al Jazeera Sport for making allegations against Nilesat.
“Al Jazeera Sport is upset with the success of Egyptian TV as it succeeded in transmitting the World Cup opening game, for which the channel paid 120 million Egyptian pounds. Egyptians prefer to watch local channels in place of a Qatari channel,” said Sheikh.
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