By Anthony Harwood/London Correspondent
An international hotel chain has clamped down on pirate broadcasts of the World Cup across Saudi Arabia after they were discovered being shown to pilgrims in the holy city of Makkah.
Marriott International Hotels says it acted swiftly to shut down the illegal transmissions of the rogue pirate channel, called beoutQ, as soon as they were discovered.
The American-based chain then launched an investigation and discovered beoutQ was also showing the football at its other hotels in the country, and is stopping those broadcasts as well.
There are nine Marriott Hotels in Saudi Arabia, located in Riyadh, Madinah, Jeddah and Makkah.
Matches that were shown at the hotel in Makkah included group games between Nigeria and Iceland, and Argentina and Croatia.
According to Khaleej Online, a number of pilgrims expressed surprise at the broadcast of pirate channels “that are keen on robbing and insulting a Muslim Arab country at a time when they paid high sums to book at this luxury hotel”.
A Marriott Hotel manager told one of the pilgrims who complained: “We thank you for bringing this to our attention and reassure you that we take such matters very seriously.
"We have investigated the issue and can confirm this has been discontinued with immediate effect."
Two weeks ago FIFA launched its own clampdown, threatening to take legal action against the Saudi Arabia-based station, Arabsat, after it ignored warnings to stop broadcasting the tournament’s every game.
Football’s governing body intervened after complaints by the Qatari-based channel, beIN Sports, which has bought exclusive rights to show the World Cup across the MENA region.
Saudi Arabia stopped trading with Qatar last June when it launched a diplomatic and transport boycott.
The Riyadh authorities stopped the sale of beIN boxes and banned viewers form renewing their subscriptions.
So that its sports fans would not lose out they launched a piracy operation the following August, using the Arabsat station in which Saudi Arabia is the largest shareholder.
They managed to steal the beIN feed, superimposing a ‘beoutQ’ logo on top of the beIN one.
Even though beIN was being pirated by Saudi Arabia on an industrial scale, the Doha-based channel agreed to broadcast 22 matches across the MENA region for free, so that millions without the illegal broadcasts would not miss out.
But this did not stop piracy operation continuing.
It later emerged that beoutQ was also stealing from the US-based NBC Universal Telemundo’s World Cup feed to America’s Spanish-speaking viewers.
And Europe’s governing body, UEFA, also entered the fray calling the Saudi piracy a ‘significant threat to European football’.
In a statement it said: "The protection of our Intellectual Property is key to UEFA and we will take the necessary steps to address the issue in order to enforce and protect the rights granted to beIN Sports, including through engaging with selected carriers in the region."
A spokeswoman for Marriott International Hotels, which is based in Maryland, said Sunday night :"This issue was brought to our notice yesterday. We take such matters very seriously and can confirm that beoutQ broadcast has been discontinued with immediate effect at our hotel in Makkah.
"Some of our other hotels in Saudi Arabia were showing (beoutQ) and are now being stopped."
Despite an international outcry, beoutQ broadcasts of the World Cup continue across Saudi Arabia, including at airports.
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