Prime Minister David Cameron has congratulated former premiership footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger for coming out as gay.

On his Facebook page, Mr Cameron said: “As an Aston Villa fan, I’ve always admired what Thomas Hitzlsperger did on the pitch – but I admire him even more today. A brave & important move.”

Figures in the world of football and politics, including Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker and Queens Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton have praised Hitzlsperger for his openness.

On Wednesday, the 31-year-old told Germany’s Die Zeit: “I’m coming out about my homosexuality because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards.”

He added: “I’ve never been ashamed of the way I am”.

Minister for Sport and Equalities Helen Grant said to PinkNews.co.uk: “It’s great news that Thomas Hitzlsperger has had the courage to come out today. While we have made great progress in shifting  attitudes towards  the gay community, there are still many people who have hidden or who are still hiding their sexuality, through fear of homophobia. There is still more we can all do to help tackle homophobia in sport.”

Earlier, in a message to Hitzlsperger’s Twitter account, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he had “huge respect” for the recently retired premiership player.

Hitzlsperger played for Aston Villa from 2001-2005. He then went to VfB Stuttgart, the team he played longest for during his career. He retired from professional football in September 2013, having had stints at West Ham and Everton.

There are currently no known openly gay footballers in the English and Scottish professional leagues.

Former Leeds and US winger Robbie Rogers came out as gay and quit English football in February 2013.

He later reversed his decision to quit the game and signed for LA Galaxy – but as of yet Rogers has no plans to return to the English league.

Before Rogers’ revelation, only two footballers had publicly said they were gay.

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.

Swedish lower league player Anton Hysen – son of former Liverpool defender Glenn Hysen – came out in an interview with a Swedish football magazine in 2011.

Writing exclusively for PinkNews.co.uk in June 2011, David Cameron said it was “vital to kick homophobia out of sport”.