Activists hope Italian footballers will come out as gay
High-profile player's words should encourage others, says group08 January, 17:51
That "would be a positive message to combat homophobia," the Gay Centre in Rome said in a statement hours after midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger became arguably the highest-profile soccer player ever to come out as gay.
"I'm coming out about my homosexuality because I want to advance the debate about homosexuality among professional sports people," the 31-year-old told German newspaper Die Zeit. Hitzlsperger retired last year after a series of injury troubles.
He played six Serie A games for Lazio during a brief stint in Rome in 2010. The Gay Centre said it thinks there are gay football players in Italy who "should do (a) Hitzlsperger and declare publicly" their sexual status.
Its statement said that Italian law still limits gay rights, including marriage, and homosexuals face abuse and violence.
"Coming out in the sport would be a positive message, especially to young people, and help to combat homophobia," said the Gay Centre statement.
Hitzlsperger also played for Aston Villa, Stuttgart, West Ham United, Wolfsburg, Everton and made 52 appearances for the German national team. He told Die Zeit that homosexuality was not a subject that could be easily talked about in football in Italy, Germany and England.
"In England, Germany and Italy the issue of homosexuality is not taken seriously, especially not in the locker room," Hitzlsperger said. Former Lazio captain Tommaso Rocchi said Hitzlsperger never gave any hint of not being straight. "I didn't know. This announcement is a surprise to me," Rocchi told ANSA. "I never realised," he added.
"Everyone is free to do what they think right. There were never any problems with him.
"I think he's at peace with himself. Everyone is free to be what they feel". There have only been a few previous examples of footballers coming out.
In 1990, former England Under-21 international Justin Fashanu became the first professional footballer in Britain to reveal he was gay. He committed suicide in 1998, aged 37.