Munich - Former Germany international and Bundesliga champion Thomas Hitzlsperger has announced that he is homosexual.

“Only in recent years did it become apparent to me that I would prefer to live with another man,” explained the 31-year-old in an interview with German publication Die Zeit.

"Not taken seriously"

The retired midfielder, who hung up his boots four months ago due to ongoing knee problems, felt it was “a good moment” to shed light on his sexual orientation. “I'm coming out about my homosexuality because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards."

Coming to terms with being gay was “a long and difficult process” admitted Hitzlsperger, who believes homosexuality is “simply ignored” in football. To date he has not personally met a fellow professional footballer willing to discuss the topic. "In England, Germany or Italy, homosexuality is not taken seriously as an issue, at least not in the dressing room," said the former Aston Villa, VfB Stuttgart, S.S. Lazio, West Ham United, VfL Wolfsburg and Everton FC midfielder.

Changing room taboo

Hitzlsperger, a member of Germany’s 23-man squad at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, went on to explain how he resented the contradictions that had been built up around the topic of homosexuality within the football world. Professional sport is all about being competitive. “Fighting spirit, passion and a winning mentality are intrinsically linked,” continued Hitzlsperger. “But those characteristics don't fit the cliché that 'Gays are soft’.”

Despite that the former Germany international, who won 52 caps for his country during his playing career, insists he has "never been ashamed of the way I am”, but did conceded that it has not always been easy to live with some of the comments dished out by his fellow professionals. "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 discussion about homosexuality doesn't border on being insulting," he said.

Rauball: "A courageous step"

Hitzlsperger, captain of VfB Stuttgart when they were crowned league champions in 2007, informed both national team head coach Joachim Löw and team manager Oliver Bierhoff of his intention to go public with the sensitive information, but has received a positive response regarding his decision. President of the German League Association DFL, Dr. Reinhard Rauball referred to the news as “a big and courageous step in the fight against homophobia”.

The German Football Federation DFB published a brochure on the subject in the summer of 2013 entitled “Football and Homosexuality”. The information packet was intended “to deal calmly and appropriately with the topic of sexual identity”. In his foreword, DFB president Wolfgang Niersbach stated that the DFB would “provide the necessary help and support to any professional player that wanted to come out, whether they play in the Bundesliga or lower tier”.