Thomas Hitzlsperger: Football is tackling homophobia

Thomas Hitzlsperger
Thomas Hitzlsperger won 52 caps for Germany

Former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger believes football is tackling homophobia, despite there being no openly gay players in the Premier League.

Hitzlsperger is the most prominent footballer to reveal he is gay.

The ex-Germany international is part of the Rainbow Laces campaign, which aims to show support to address homophobia.

"To see the progress is phenomenal and especially among the players," Hitzlsperger, 32, told BBC Sport.

There are currently no openly gay footballers in any of the major European football leagues.

Hitzlsperger said he was encouraged by his own experiences since coming out but understood why players would be reticent to reveal their sexuality.

Thomas Hitzlsperger's club career
August 2000: The 18-year-old joins Aston Villa from Bayern Munich's youth set-up.
August 2005: After almost 100 appearances for Villa, he makes free transfer move to Stuttgart and wins Bundesliga in 2006-07 season
January 2010: Joins Lazio but makes only six appearances for the Italian team
June 2010: Moves to West Ham on a free transfer, but plays just 11 times for the club
August 2011: Signs for Wolfsburg on a free transfer following West Ham's relegation from Premier League
October 2012: Joins Everton on short-term deal, making seven appearances for the Toffees

"Football is just so popular so one's got to be very careful. If you come out and you're not really prepared for it then it might be the end of your career," he said.

"There is a lot of support going on in the football industry but unless we see someone still actively playing football, we don't really know what will happen.

"When I came out I got quite a reaction, it was quite intense, a lot of people talked about it. Hopefully, next time someone does exactly the same, we will not talk about it for that long and they can just get on with their career."

High-profile athletes from other sports have openly discussed their sexuality in recent years, with Olympic diver Tom Daley revealing in December he was in a relationship with a man.

But there are fewer examples in football. In 1990, former England Under-21 international Justin Fashanu was the first professional footballer in Britain to reveal he was gay. He took his own life eight years later, aged 37.

In February 2013, former United States and Leeds United winger Robbie Rogers said he was gay while Hitzlsperger, did the same in January, shortly after retiring from football.

Rainbow laces
Footballers have been encouraged to wear rainbow laces to support tackling homophobia in football

Players at professional clubs are being asked wear rainbow laces to to raise awareness and help eradicate homophobia from football.

Hitzlsperger, who also played for West Ham and Everton, said: "Every time you see a professional athlete coming out and talking about their experiences it does help.

"The game of football is all about diversity, everyone should be part of the game and shouldn't be excluded because of their skin colour or sexual orientation."

Top Stories