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.
Congratulations to Thomas Hitzlsperger on bravely being the first player to have played in the PL to ‘come out’ http://t.co/9boXWNpnFZ
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) January 8, 2014
Arsenal centre forward Lukas Podolski commended it as a “brave” and “right” decision.
Brave and right decision. Respect, Thomas Hitzlsperger. His outing is a important sign in our time. pic.twitter.com/c69Oml2Ocp
— Lukas-Podolski.com (@Podolski10) January 8, 2014
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.
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.
Thomas Hitzlsperger has shown a lot of courage today. Sad times when people have to wait till they retire from their chosen profession…
— Joseph Barton (@Joey7Barton) January 8, 2014
Tony Barrett, a football writer for The Times, also tweeted to say the game needed to make greater strides for its gay players.
That gay players feel unable to come out until after retirement makes football seem very, very backward.
— Tony Barrett (@TonyBarretTimes) January 8, 2014
On Wednesday, Hysen tweeted his support for Thomas Hitzlsperger.
Just want to take a moment & say GOOD JOB Thomas Hitzlsperger!! very proud over what youve done. Extremely good for football!
— anton hysen official (@antonhysenoffic) January 8, 2014