L'ancien milieu de terrain international allemand a révélé ce mercredi son homosexualité. «Je veux faire avancer la question de l'homosexualité dans le monde du sport professionnel.»
>> Thomas Hitzlsperger: Former Aston Villa player reveals he is gay
Ancien international allemand (52 sélections), Thomas Hitzlsperger (31 ans) a annoncé son homosexualité ce mercredi dans le journal allemand Zeit. L'ex-milieu de terrain, notamment passé par Stuttgart, la Lazio et Everton, avait arrêté sa carrière en septembre dernier. «Cela a été un processus long et difficile (la prise de conscience d'être gay). C'est seulement au cours des dernières années que j'ai réalisé que je préférais vivre avec un homme», a-t-il expliqué, avant de révéler les raisons qui l'ont poussé à sortir de son silence.
«Je déclare mon homosexualité, parce que je veux faire avancer la question de l'homosexualité dans le monde du sport professionnel.» «L'esprit combattif, la passion, la mentalité de vainqueur ne correspondent pas au cliché selon lequel les gays sont doux.» «Je n'ai jamais eu honte d'être qui je suis, mais ce n'était pas toujours facile de s'asseoir autour d'une table avec 20 jeunes hommes et écouter des blagues sur les homosexuels, a-t-il encore raconté. Vous laissez passer tant que les blagues sont un peu drôles et pas trop insultantes. Être gay est un sujet qui est ignoré dans le football et non pas un sujet sérieux. L'esprit combattif, la passion, la mentalité de vainqueur ne correspondent pas au cliché selon lequel les gays sont doux.»
>> The 31-year-old, who won 52 caps for Germany and also played for West Ham and Everton, made the announcement in newspaper Die Zeit.
He is only the fourth footballer to publicly reveal his homosexuality but said it was "a good time" to do so.
"I'm coming out about my homosexuality because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards," he added.
The midfielder said he has only realised "in the past few years" that he would "prefer to live together with another man", adding: "I've never been ashamed of the way I am."
However, he said the issue is taboo inside the dressing room and it had not always been easy to live with some of the comments dished out on the subject.
"Just picture 20 men sat around a table together drinking - you've just got to let the majority be, just as long as the jokes are halfway funny and the talk about homosexuality doesn't get too insulting," he said.
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.
In February 2013, former United States and Leeds United winger Robbie Rogers said he was gay.
Swedish lower league player Anton Hysen, son of former Liverpool player Glenn Hysen, publicly announced his homosexuality in an interview with a Swedish football magazine in 2011.
And 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.
Hitzlsperger retired from the sport in September 2013 at the age of 31 after a series of injury problems.
He joined Villa as a teenager in 2000 from Bayern Munich and went on to play for Stuttgart, Lazio, West Ham and Wolfsburg, with a short stint at Everton before the end of his career.
It was during his five-year spell at Aston Villa that the Munich-born midfielder made his name and while at Villa Park he earned the nickname 'Der Hammer' because of his powerful left-foot shot.
Hitzlsperger also enjoyed a successful international career, making his first senior international bow in 2004.
He represented Germany at the 2006 World Cup - though he only played 11 minutes of that competition - and the 2008 European Championship, where he started in the quarter-final, semi-final and final.
Campaign group Stonewall welcomed the announcement. Director of campaigns Sam Dick told BBC Sport: "It's fantastic that he has been brave enough to openly discuss his sexual orientation.
"Every sports star who is willing to speak out makes it just that little bit easier for gay players and fans, and we hope, a new generation of footballers will feel confident enough to be themselves."