Minister for Sport and Equalities Helen Grant has praised former West Ham and German international Thomas Hitzlsperger for announcing that he’s gay.

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.

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

It came a day after Michael Johnson resigned as an equality advisor to England’s Football Association, following fresh scrutiny of homophobic comments he made back in 2012. 

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.

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.