Former Premier League footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger announces he is gay – and says he hopes “one day” young players will be able to come out while they are still playing.
Hitzlsperger becomes the second footballer to come out as gay following former Leeds winger Robbie Rogers’s announcement last February,
The 31-year-old former German international, who ended his playing career in September due to persistent injuries, told Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper that now was “a good time” for him to reveal his true sexuality.
“I’m coming out about my homosexuality because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards,” Hitzlsperger said.
The midfielder, who played for Aston Villa and West Ham, said he had only realised “in the past few years” that he would “prefer to live together with another man,” saying the issue is otherwise taboo inside the dressing room.
“I’ve never been ashamed of the way I am,” he added, although he conceded it has not always been easy to live with some of the comments dished out on the subject.
“Just picture 20 men sat around a table together drinking – you’ve just got to let the majority be, just as long as the jokes are halfway funny and the talk about homosexuality doesn’t get too insulting,” he said.
“In England, Germany or Italy, homosexuality is not taken seriously as an issue, at least not in the dressing room.”
Looking forward to interviewing Thomas Hitzlsperger for Football Focus this week. A man, hopefully, paving the way for others to follow.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) January 8, 2014
Thomas Hitzlsperger has shown a lot of courage today. Sad times when people have to wait till they retire from their chosen profession…
— Joseph Barton (@Joey7Barton) January 8, 2014
Director of campaigns at gay rights charity Stonewall Sam Dick said: “It’s fantastic that Thomas Hitzlsperger has been brave enough to openly discuss his sexual orientation.
“Every sports star who is willing to speak out makes it just that little bit easier for gay players and fans – and we hope a new generation of footballers will feel confident enough to be themselves.”
Thomas Hitzlsperger is the latest high-profile sports person to speak about their sexuality in public.
Former England Under-21 international Justin Fashanu was the first professional footballer in Britain to come out in 1990 before he took his own life eight years later, aged 37.
Tennis star Martina Navratilova came out publicly as gay in 1981 while John Amaechi was the first NBA player to openly admit to being gay in 2007.
Ex-Wales rugby union captain Gareth Thomas, plus England and Surrey wicketkeeper Steven Davies, have both also come out in the last five years.
Olympic boxing gold medallist Nicola Adams topped the Independent's annual 'Pink List' poll of influential lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in November 2012.
And last month Tom Daley revealed he was in a relationship with a man, while two other Olympic divers have previously come out.
Australian Matthew Mitcham announced he was gay in 2008 shortly before he won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, and four-time Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis revealed he was gay following his retirement in 1995.