Algerians priced out of widespread WCup coverage

Published Jun. 10, 2010 4:55 p.m. ET

Hackers and high prices are thwarting Algerians' plans to watch World Cup matches not involving the national team.

Algeria reached the World Cup for the first time in 24 years by beating fierce rival Egypt, thrilling a country reeling from more than a decade of civil war and now grappling with terrorism linked to al-Qaida and massive unemployment.

Only a few hundred Algerian supporters are expected in South Africa to cheer on the sole Arab team. The rest of the country had planned to watch the tournament from home, but many fans are finding themselves priced out of cable television access.

The Algerian government has the rights to broadcast 22 games, but state TV will only show the national team's three group matches.

Fans with a satellite dish turned to the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, which sold a card that promised full access to World Cup games for the considerable sum of 7,000 dinars ($95).

Except it doesn't work.

Al-Jazeera spokesman Ali Benafla said hackers had worked out the code to the World Cup channels, forcing the organization to re-encrypt it and make the old cards worthless.


Now, to watch the World Cup on Al-Jazeera, viewers need to buy a new card - at a cost of 17,000 dinars ($224).

``It's true that my clients are victims but it's the same for me,'' said Benafla, who added that he has been threatened by clients demanding to be reimbursed.

Fan Nabil Kramdi called it ``a scam.''

Meanwhile, Russian-made pirate satellite cards are filling the market for 4,000 dinars ($53), and vendor Mordicus Lyes says they're selling well.

``I know it's illegal but I'm convinced that I am providing a service to Algerians who don't have the means'' to buy the official cards, Lyes said.

The Algeria team hasn't played at a World Cup since 1986, when it was eliminated in the first round.