|Thomas Hitzlsperger is arguably the most high-profile footballer to reveal he is gay|
Photo: Getty Images
Hitzlsperger retired from professional football in September 2013 due to ongoing knee problems, and he felt it was a good time to shed light on his sexual orientation after he had hung up his boots.
He said: "I'm coming out about my homosexuality because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards.
"I think it is a good moment for it. With the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, I think we need more critical voices against campaigns of regimes who don't tolerate homosexuals.
"Fighting spirit, passion and a winning mentality are intrinsically linked in sport. But those characteristics don't fit the cliché that homosexuals are soft."
Having joined Aston Villa from Bayern Munich as an 18-year-old, he spent five years at Villa Park before returning to his homeland with VfB Stuttgart, where he stayed until 2010 before spells with Lazio, West Ham, VfL Wolfsburg, and Everton.
Hitzlsperger also scored six goals in 52 appearances for Germany and featured at the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008.
He added: "In England, Germany or Italy, homosexuality is not taken seriously as an issue, at least not in the dressing room.
"I've never been ashamed, nevertheless the sayings of teammates were not always easy to bear. 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."
|Thomas Hitzlsperger captained Stuttgart to the Bundesliga title in 2007|
Photo: Getty Images
The 31-year-old admitted he only realised he was gay in the past few years. In 2007, he split from his childhood sweetheart and long-term girlfriend Inga just one month before their wedding.
Hitzlsperger explained: "It has been a long and difficult process. Only in recent years did it become apparent to me that I would prefer to live with another man."
In coming out, he has become the the highest profile footballer to do so - following in the footsteps of lower-league Swedish player Anton Hysén, and United States player Robbie Rogers.
DFB president Wolfgang Niersbach said: "During his time as an international player, Thomas Hitzlsperger was always a role model for whom I had the greatest respect, and now I have even greater respect for him.
"He has decided to go public with this news, and I stand by our word that he has our full support."
Following the news, Twitter was abuzz with reaction and it was universally supportive.
Thomas Hitzlsperger has shown a lot of courage today. Sad times when people have to wait till they retire from their chosen profession...— Joseph Barton (@Joey7Barton) January 8, 2014
Congratulations to Thomas Hitzlsperger on bravely being the first player to have played in the PL to 'come out' http://t.co/9boXWNpnFZ— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) January 8, 2014
As an #AVFC fan, I've always admired what Thomas Hitzlsperger did on the pitch - but I admire him even more today. A brave & important move.— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) January 8, 2014
Brave and right decision. Respect, Thomas Hitzlsperger. His outing is a important sign in our time. pic.twitter.com/c69Oml2Ocp— Lukas-Podolski.com (@Podolski10) January 8, 2014
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