LONDON: Retired German footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger, who has come out as gay, believes that there is “a long way to go” before openly homosexual players are accepted in top-level football.
Hitzlsperger, 31, publicly announced his sexuality on the website of German weekly Die Zeit, prompting messages of support from sporting and political figures across Europe.
“We still have a long way to go because we fear a reaction and we don’t know what will happen,” Hitzlsperger, who won 52 caps for Germany, told BBC radio.
“I can’t imagine playing football and doing this at the same time.”
Hitzlsperger, whose former clubs include Aston Villa, Everton, Stuttgart and Lazio, joins a handful of players with experience of professional football who have announced that they are gay.
They include late English striker Justin Fashanu, who committed suicide in 1998, lower-league Swedish footballer Anton Hysen and former United States international Robbie Rogers, who plays for Los Angeles Galaxy.
Hitzlsperger decided not to reveal his sexuality until after he had finished his playing career because of fears about the reaction it would provoke, but he hopes he has helped to prepare the ground for other gay players.
Hitzlsperger, who retired because of injury in September, also said it was hard to judge whether there is homophobia within the professional game.
“It’s difficult to say for me whether there is an anti-gay atmosphere because so far there isn’t an openly gay football player in a European league,” he said.
“It’s probably easier if you compare it to racism. With racism you know who people dislike when they shout things at them; it’s clearly visible. But gay football players so far don’t exist officially.”