x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Al Jazeera upsets rugby fans with Six Nations no show

Fans expecting to see Ireland and Wales were disappointed when Al Jazeera showed a replay of an Italian football match instead.

DUBAI // Thousands of rugby fans were left fuming when the Ireland versus Wales Six Nations match was not broadcast live as scheduled on Sunday evening.

Thousands packed into bars and cafes across the country, with more waiting to watch on pay TV at home.

The game was to be shown by Al Jazeera Sport, which holds the broadcasting rights. Instead, a replay of an Italian football match was shown.

Neither Al Jazeera nor Six Nations Limited has responded to requests for comment.

McGettigan's Irish Bar in the Bonnington Hotel had more than 500 fans in its outdoors area, waiting to watch one of the most hotly contested games of the tournament.

The Six Nations is played by England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy every year.

"A lot of people had bought food and drinks and made arrangements for a good evening out, based all around the game," said Scott Harris, 41, a Welshman.

Mr Harris said he had never seen so many of his countrymen in one place in Dubai.

"I think I can speak for everyone and say there were a lot of disappointed people," he said. "It's a big thing. The Six Nations is very big for all expats - even the Australians and Kiwis love watching it."

At 7pm, when fans were expecting to see Ireland kick off at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, they saw a replay of Napoli against Inter Milan on the giant screen.

Michael Dooley, the bar manager at McGettigan's, said he had received calls from other bars across the city asking the same question: where was the game?

"It is not only disappointing for us but for the thousands of rugby fans across the Middle East," Mr Dooley said.

He said he used the website liveonsat.com for games listings and was directed to the channel supposedly showing the rugby match.

"It has never let us down before," Mr Dooley said.

Welsh fans missed watching their team win 23-21, when Lee Halfpenny converted a penalty in the 80th minute.

Colm Byrne, 34, from Ireland, said it was unacceptable to leave fans "hanging like that".

"I find it hard to believe a sports channel can just decide not to show a game like that," Mr Byrne said.

"It's like they don't know how important rugby is to its viewers. What's worse is when they were looking for the game it looked like there were no other live games on the other channels. They were just reruns of other games."

It is the third time Al Jazeera was scheduled to broadcast the tournament. OSN, which previously held the rights, showed the Rugby World Cup last summer.

eharnan@thenational.ae