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Senegal through but lose pair to suspension

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By ESPN Staff

Berlusconi won't interfere in Serie A row

ROME, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi denied on Wednesday accusations he and his TV empire were behind a broadcasting rights row that threatens Serie A.

Fourteen teams in Serie A, Italian soccer's top flight, have threatened to boycott matches against leading sides Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan in a multi-million euro dispute about how clubs sell their TV rights.

Fiorentina owner Diego Della Valle has accused media tycoon Berlusconi of being behind a political move to block a request by the clubs to return to collective bargaining.

The row has again drawn onto the headlines accusations of a conflict between Berlusconi's political and business interests just weeks ahead of Italian general elections in April.

'The government line on football is to leave it alone, to not interfere,' Berlusconi said in an interview on Sky Italia.

Clubs, led by Della Valle, had demanded a return to collective bargaining with the aim of spreading television revenues more equally among Serie A's 20 teams.

But the proposal was blocked by Berlusconi's Forza Italia political party.

Berlusconi owns AC Milan, one of the teams that most benefits from negotiating individually with TV networks. His family company controls Italy's largest private broadcaster, Mediaset, that leads football TV rights negotiations.

Berlusconi, Italy's richest man, told Sky Italia that Mediaset was in favour of collective bargaining.

He added that he had instructed his lawyers to sue Della Valle for slander.

Italy's Communications Minister Mario Landolfi sought to quell the row last week and told soccer and television chiefs to broker a compromise.

Riccardo Perissich, chairman of broadcaster Telecom Italia Media, said then that he thought a return to collective bargaining was likely.

Italian clubs have negotiated their own deals since 1999, a situation that has allowed the likes of Juventus, Milan and Inter to earn up to 10 times more than their smaller rivals.

Clubs in England, Spain, France and Germany negotiate their deals collectively in order to spread the revenues more evenly.