Saudi fans forced to cough up

RIYADH - Saudi football fans, desperate to watch the Euro 2008 football tournament exclusively shown on al-Jazeera Sport channel, are scrambling to buy special television viewing cards at triple the price, a local media report said yesterday.

RIYADH - Saudi football fans, desperate to watch the Euro 2008 football tournament exclusively shown on al-Jazeera Sport channel, are scrambling to buy special television viewing cards at triple the price, a local media report said yesterday.

With the launch of the European football championship on Saturday, the black market sale of prepaid satellite television cards saw a boom across the western Red Sea port of Jeddah, the daily Arab News reported.

Football fans across the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf can only watch the tournament on the Doha-based al-Jazeera Sport channel, which won exclusive broadcast rights to UEFA matches for four years.

Pre-paid satellite cards for watching the games, which were priced at around R284 each, are sold out. This has given rise to a black market where a prepaid card is sold for up to R835, the newspaper said.

Undaunted by the shortage of cards, which al-Jazeera promised to fill in the next few days, Salih al-Ghamdi went to look for cards all over Jeddah.

He finally managed to get one for only R733.

Another fan, Jordanian national Ali Farouq, said he drove a long way to the satellite market on Hira Street to find a seller that would not budge on a price less than R842.

This price is beyond the means of many football enthusiasts across the region, who have a good reason to be disgruntled over al-Jazeera's decision to restrict viewing to those who can afford the satellite cards.

The masses of poorer viewers in the Arab world will look back nostalgically at the not so distant past when world and local sports events were broadcast on local television channels and on local radio stations. - Sapa-DPA

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