Gay former basketball star John Amaechi has said that gay sportsmen and women should not rush to come out if they do not feel ready.

The player, who came out in 2007, four years after retiring from sport, likened coming out too soon to “being born prematurely”.

Now a psychologist, he said he disagreed with urging people who are not yet comfortable enough to do so to come out.

He told the Manchester Evening News: “I get into trouble sometimes with the gay community by saying it is not the job of sports stars in the closet to come out.

“That is not how change happens. For an under-prepared and psychologically stunted individual who plays sports at a high level to come out before they are ready is like being born prematurely.”

The former NBA star added: “Unequivocally, being out is better than staying in, but those who do come out need support.”

Only a handful of top British sports men and women are openly gay. However, most who do come out do so in retirement or at their ends of their careers.

Amaechi, 39, was revealed as a new patron of LGBT History Month this week and will join gay rugby player Gareth Thomas in promoting the initiative.

LGBT History Month, which takes place each February, is focusing on sport in the run-up to London hosting the 2012 Olympics.

Amaechi, who runs a sports and community centre in Whalley Range, Manchester, told the newspaper he hoped to hold an event in the city.

LGBT History Month organiser Sue Sanders said this week that he was a “living legend”.

“We’re honoured to welcome him on board as a patron and look forward to working with such a wonderful ambassador,” she said.