England captain Casey Stoney has revealed watching Olympic diver Tom Daley talk about his sexuality gave her the courage to publicly admit she is gay.
The 31-year-old Arsenal Ladies defender spoke out after feeling she was “living a lie”.
She was talking to BBC Radio 5Live as part of a special feature on homophobia in football which will air on Thursday night.
Stoney, who has earned 116 caps, said she was inspired to tell her story following the positive response Olympic diver Tom Daley received when he talked about being in a same-sex relationship.
She said: “I was living a lie.
“I’ve never hidden it within football circles because it is accepted. But to the outside world, I’ve never spoken about my sexuality.
“I feel it’s really important for me to speak out as a gay player because there are so many people struggling who are gay, and you hear about people taking their own lives because they are homosexual. That should never happen.
“How can I expect other people to speak about themselves if I’m not willing to do that myself?
“I looked at the response that Tom Daley got. It was incredibly positive, and I thought ‘wow the world is changing and it’s time for me to stand up and tell my side of the story’.
“Those three or four people have given me the courage to say I’m gay.”
Stoney captained England at Euro 2013 and donned the armband for Team GB at the 2012 Olympics.
The footballer voiced her surprise at the decision to award men’s World Cups to Russia and Qatar, insisting attitudes to the LGBT community in the two countries means she would refuse to attend the events.
“I won’t be going to Russia or Qatar to watch a World Cup because I wouldn’t be accepted there,” she said.
“I think it’s incredible that these countries get World Cups and Olympics when they don’t accept everybody to go there and be part of it.”
“When Russian President Vladimir Putin says that gay people can come over but please don’t go near the children, what sort of message is that sending if he is that uneducated and he’s ruling that country? It seriously worries me. It’s about educating the people at the top, all the way down.”
She went on to explain how fear had prevented her from discussing her sexuality before now. But she said she has reached a point in her life where she is comfortable being open about her private life.
Stoney added: “For the last 10 years I’ve always cared too much what other people think.
“I was frightened of the stereotypes, frightened of being judged, frightened of what other people might say, especially the abuse you can get through social media.
“But I think I’m in a place where I feel so comfortable in my own skin, I feel so loved by the person I’m with, that I feel I can face anything.
“In the past, I made up lies about having a boyfriend or acted a certain way because I felt like that’s how I had to act and be accepted by the modern world.
“But I wasn’t happy doing that, because I was always lying, and lying to myself as well.”
She continued: “Can you really be happy, can you really be yourself? If you are not comfortable in yourself and you are not comfortable in social settings or your surroundings, how can you go into a team environment and be yourself and train hard and feel relaxed with your team-mates if you don’t know who you are?
“It’s taken me many years, and help. I’ve worked with a sports psychologist on certain issues and it’s been a struggle, but I’ve got here now.”