Figures in the world of football have praised former West Ham and German international Thomas Hitzlsperger, over his decision to announce that he is gay.

On Wednesday, the 31-year-old recently retired premiership player 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”.

Match of the Day presenter and former England player Gary Lineker applauded Hitzlsperger on Twitter.

Arsenal centre forward Lukas Podolski commended it as a “brave” and “right” decision.

The Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN) welcomed Hitzlsperger’s comments as an encouraging development.

GFSN Chair Chris Basiurski said: “We really welcome this news, its shows that we are moving one step closer to creating that atmosphere in football where players at all levels would be able to come out should they want to, safely and free from discrimination.

“We hope that one day current players would feel able to come out and that eventually a player’s sexual orientation not be a news story, but for now we wish Thomas Hitzlesperger well.”

The fact that Hitzlsperger’s announcement came after he had already retired from football shows the sport still has a long way to go.

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

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.

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

Queens Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton said he hoped that one day the situation would change.

Tony Barrett, a football writer for The Times, also tweeted to say the game needed to make greater strides for its gay players.

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

On Wednesday, Hysen tweeted his support for Thomas Hitzlsperger.