Stephen McGuinness, secretary of the Players’ Football Association of Ireland (PFAI), is adamant that serious barriers have to be broken down to facilitate players coming out as gay.
Though the decision by the German former English Premier League player Thomas Hitzlsperger to yesterday reveal his sexuality was applauded by McGuinness, he admitted the timing was a disappointment.
The 31-year-old quit the game four months ago due to persistent injuries, insisting he preferred to wait until now for the announcement due to the subject being ‘taboo’ in the dressing room.
McGuinness can understand why it is easier for professionals in individual sports, like Tom Daley, to make their homosexuality public.
He hopes, however, that improved support structures can ensure Hitzlsperger’s honesty acts an example for gay footballers in the League of Ireland.
“I’ve never been aware of any player in our league, past or present, who was gay,” said the PFAI boss.
“But I know — based on the sheer volume of players — that there has been gay players in the league, and that there currently are.
“Perhaps the Hitzlsperger case will crystallise our thoughts as we need to put in proper support structures. That he’s come out after he’s retired is a disappointment as he could do more to help if he was still playing.
“If a player came to us, would we advise them to come out? I don’t know. It would depend on the type of guy you are dealing with. He might not be comfortable about going public. We need to be ready if a player comes looking for advice.”
McGuinness, currently in Oslo with 20 out-of-work players at the FIFPro event seeking new clubs, says the issue of homosexuality forms part of an array of issues his members grapple with in their everyday lives.
The reaction, for instance, to the confession by St Patrick’s Athletic midfielder James Chambers of his battle with depression has been overwhelming. He only hopes Irish players don’t suffer in silence.
“Personal problems shouldn’t be a stigma subject anymore,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve helped players deal with issues such as gambling, drugs and now mental health.
“Since James admitted his depression, we have had a number of members come to us with similar problems. They were given a voice by James and we have a clear process of support there for them. The world is moving on but football, for some reason, seems slow to embrace the fact there are gay footballers. It’s a manly thing. We would need to counsel our members not to use homosexuality as a negative, on or off the pitch.”
Hitzlsperger won 52 caps, representing Germany in the World Cup and European Championships. He became a fans’ favourites in England at West Ham United and Aston Villa, while also lining out for Everton. He won the Bundesliga with Stuttgart and also turned out for Wolfsburg and Lazio.
“It’s been a long and difficult process. Only in the last few years have I realised that I preferred living together with a man,” Hitzlsperger admitted in an interview to be published in today’s Die Zeit on newspaper.
Alex comments slammed
Former Chelsea defender Alex has been slammed for making homophobic comments on French television last night.
Speaking on a show called Jesus Football Club on Canal+, the PSG player expressed a view that: “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Yves”.
Another Brazilian defender who plays with the club, Marcos Ceara, also admitted: “I am against divorce and abortion. I’m not really for homosexuality”.
Aside from those comments there was widespread support for Thomas Hitzlsperger last night on social media.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved