LONDON: Retired German footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger called for people to “face up” to homophobia in Russia ahead of the Winter Olympics after coming out as a homosexual on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
Hitzlsperger’s announcement, in German magazine Die Zeit, makes him the first Germany international to reveal that he is gay.
Russia, which will stage the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month, has come under international pressure after President Vladimir Putin in June approved a law that bans the promotion of homosexuality to minors.
Calling for further pressure, Hitzlsperger told British newspaper The Guardian, in an interview published late on Wednesday: “It’s important to face up to nations that discriminate against minorities, sexual or otherwise.
“I’m fine with the fact that my story will be mentioned in relation to the Games, because the situation in Russia is something that needs to be talked about.
“I’m curious to see what will happen. I’m sure that some athletes will make a stand.”
Figures from sport and politics across Europe voiced their support for Hitzlsperger, but his announcement fell on a day when Paris Saint-Germain’s Brazilian defender Alex created a row about homophobia.
Speaking in a documentary about religion due to be broadcast on French pay TV company Canal+, the born-again Christian said: “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Yves.”
Reacting to Alex’s comments, Hitzlsperger said: “You’ll always have those guys, but it’s sad that they don’t think a little deeper about what they’re saying. I feel sorry for them, really.”
In an interview to be published in Thursday’s edition of Die Zeit, Hitzlsperger, 31, revealed: “I am declaring my homosexuality because I want the question of homosexuality in the world of professional sport to be out in the open.”
But he admitted that reaching the decision to come out had been “a long and difficult process”.
Hitzlsperger, capped 52 times by Germany between 2004 and 2010, added: “It is only in recent years I have come to realize I preferred living with a man.”