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RAI in soccer rights wrangle

Euro B'casting org may cut net if price is not paid

MILAN — Italian pubcaster RAI could lose the rights to the 2004 European Soccer Championships. The tournament is played every four years by Europe’s national teams and will take place in Portugal.

The European Broadcasting Union, which administers the rights, threatened to expel RAI on Monday because it has not yet paid for the 2004 event after signing a preliminary contract two years ago.

However, the RAI board thinks the price is too high — it is rumored to be paying S70 million ($80.5 million) for the games — and on Tuesday it ordered network general director Flavio Cattaneo to review the deal.

The decision has astounded industry watchers in the soccer-mad country. Some of them accuse media magnate and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose right-wing coalition appoints RAI’s board, of weakening the pubcaster to benefit Berlusconi’s Mediaset, Italy’s largest broadcaster.

Mediaset has acquired TV rights to the 2003-06 Champions League matches, the soccer organization UEFA announced Tuesday. No financial details were disclosed.