World Cup chaos in Mid-East

Someone has illegally interfered with FIFA World Cup soccer satellite transmissions from NileSat. Except it could not have been a single person, but a formal, organised scheme by a non-friendly – probably Muslim - government.

Qatar’s Al Jazeera Sports Channel suffered the unintended black-out of Friday’s opening games. FIFA immediately condemned the act, saying it would do all it could to support the broadcaster and NileSat in identifying the culprits.

Al Jazeera Sport has exclusive World Cup transmission rights for the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and on Saturday said it switched satellite transmission to avoid the interference but that didn't help as these transmissions also suffered. The TV station even switched to a Eutelsat Hot Bird satellite in an attempt to thwart the pirate interruptions.

Millions of football fans across the MENA region were thus deprived of live action from the opening game of the tournament on Friday [June 11] and during Saturday’s fixture between Argentina and Nigeria. The transmission of the first half of the Argentina match was marred by disruptions.

Oddly enough there was one immediate advantage. Al Jazeera requested and received permission to show the normally encrypted signals on a free to air channel, again so that fans could view the action.

Al Jazeera Sport said its signal was deliberately jammed on NileSat and Arabsat satellites in an act of piracy. "We apologise for the interruption that happened, it was because of satellite interference from an unknown source," Nasser Al Kholeifi [Nasir al-Khulayfi], managing director of Al Jazeera Sport, said. He added that 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".

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. NileSat, reported BBC Monitoring, 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. This allegation could have referred to suggestions that Egypt’s soccer-mad fans were furious that they are denied access to all of the soccer games unless they take out an expensive long-term subscription to Al Jazeera Sports.

Indeed, the chairman of Egypt's TV and Radio Association, Osama Shaykh, (and a 40% share-holder of NileSat) told local 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 Shaykh.

NileSat will be using its fellow satellite operators to triangulate and thus identify the location of the rogue signals. This is by no means the first time that satellite signals have been pirated, but normally such actions in the region are targeted at religious channels that don’t suit one point of view or another.