Ivan Gazidis: AC Milan chief executive launches diversity manifesto

By Alex HowellBBC Sport
AC Milan chief explains 'manifesto for equity, diversity and inclusion'

A lack of stadium development is one of the reasons racism remains an issue in Italian football, says AC Milan chief executive Ivan Gazidis.

Milan's San Siro is one of 12 Serie A grounds built over 50 years ago.

Only champions Juventus play in a ground opened more recently than 2010.

"We see an environment in which there is a lack of respect kind of built in, perhaps similar to what we saw in England before the development of stadiums," Gazidis told BBC Sport.

"The new stadiums provide an atmosphere in which people feel more safe and secure.

"They have more technology in them, they're more inclusive, you get more diversity in the crowds, women come, children come, people from every different race, colour, background and sexual orientation feel more welcome into the stadiums.

"That's what we have to work towards here in Italy.

"I think England perhaps has been working on these issues in a deeper way for longer. That doesn't mean they are anywhere near the end of the journey."

Milan have launched a 'Manifesto for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion' which they say will help tackle all forms of prejudice and discrimination within football.

"Denying that we have issues and pushing them under the carpet does not help," said former Arsenal chief executive Gazidis. "The first thing is acknowledgment and then we can take action.

"This is a process, there is no end to the process that we're on. The journey that football has taken over the last 20 or 30 years has been significant, but we have a long way to go."

Milan were the drivers behind an open letter released last year in which all 20 Serie A clubs pledged to combat Italian football's "serious problem" with racism because there is no more "time to waste".

"It was a very significant moment," said Gazidis. "It was a moment when all of the clubs came together with one voice and said 'we believe more must be done'.

"This wasn't just a call to action to the league and the governing bodies, it was also a call to action for ourselves."

'Something bigger than the points'

Last week, Istanbul Basaksehir and Paris St-Germain players walked off the pitch during their Champions League game after the fourth official was accused of referring to Basaksehir assistant Pierre Webo by the colour of his skin.

Gazidis said he would support his players were they to take similar action.

"We talk a lot about racism but I'm a little bit fearful of the extreme reactions that we have," he said. "We all carry prejudices, all of us.

"These may be attitudes that aren't hatefully driven but driven through ignorance or through a lack of understanding of the sensitivities.

"I tell you why I would [support players] because they would do that only if it was something that they felt strongly about.

"We need to listen to those feelings if we're able to address them properly.

"There is something bigger than the points and what's happening on the field. In general, football has been an incredible force for good in this area."

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Milan derby at San Siro
The Milan derby will be used to promote equality as part of the manifesto

Things are going well for Milan on the field. They are unbeaten in the league since March, with the youngest squad in the top five divisions in Europe.

"We have set out a vision for a progressive, modern, young Milan team playing ultimately in the most beautiful stadium in the world and establishing itself both in the domestic game and also in the international game," said Gazidis.

"We have our stadium project, which will be the most modern and the most beautiful stadium in the world. It's an incredible project."

A BBC poll earlier this month showed younger fans are happier about the prospect of a European Super League than older fans.Gazidis is aware young supporters engage with the game in a different way than before - following their favourite players and clubs from around the world.

"This conversation about the European Super League has been going on for probably more than 20 years," he said.

"The reality is there are many different ways that European football could develop over the next 5-10 years.

"I don't think there's a big likelihood that we see a Super League in the way that people talk about it.

"Do I think that there could be developments in the way that the Champions League develops? Absolutely I do. That's a conversation we should have and have it with an open mind."

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