Former Aston Villa, West Ham and Germany international midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger has announced he is gay in a bid to break the taboo of homosexuality in sport.
The 31-year-old, 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 said he has 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.”
Former Leeds and United States winger Robbie Rogers announced he was gay last year.
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, while former Cork hurling goalkeeper Donal Óg Cusack revealed he was gay in 2009.
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.
The full interview with Hitzlsperger, whose last club was Everton, will be published in the Die Zeit newspaper tomorrow.