Hitzlsperger calls for Sochi pressure
RETIRED German footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger called for people to "face up" to homophobia in Russia ahead of the Winter Olympics after coming out as a homosexual on Wednesday.
Hitzlsperger's announcement, in German magazine Die Zeit, makes him the first Germany international to reveal that he is gay.
Russia, which will stage the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month, has come under international pressure after President Vladimir Putin in June approved a law that bans the promotion of homosexuality to minors.
Calling for further pressure, Hitzlsperger told British newspaper The Guardian in an interview published late on Wednesday: "It's important to face up to nations that discriminate against minorities, sexual or otherwise. I'm fine with the fact that my story will be mentioned in relation to the Games, because the situation in Russia is something that needs to be talked about.
"I'm curious to see what will happen. I'm sure that some athletes will make a stand."
Figures from sport and politics across Europe voiced their support for Hitzlsperger, but his announcement fell on a day when Paris Saint-Germain's Brazilian defender Alex created a row about homophobia.
Speaking in a documentary about religion due to be broadcast on French pay-TV company Canal+, the born-again Christian said: "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Yves."
Reacting to Alex's comments, Hitzlsperger said: "You'll always have those guys, but it's sad that they don't think a little deeper about what they're saying. I feel sorry for them, really."
In an interview published in yesterday's edition of Die Zeit, Hitzlsperger, 31, said: "I am declaring my homosexuality because I want the question of homosexuality in the world of professional sport to be out in the open."
The midfielder, who hung up his boots at the end of last season, plied his trade in Germany, England and Italy with Aston Villa, Everton, Wolfsburg and Lazio, among others, before retiring last year.
Olympic diver Greg Louganis, National Basketball Association player John Amaechi and tennis great Martina Navratilova are among the leading sports stars to have previously come out, but openly gay footballers are a rarity.
Amaechi tweeted on Wednesday: "Congratulations to Thomas Hitzelsperger (sic) - welcome to the club!"
British Prime Minister David Cameron, a Villa supporter, also expressed his admiration for the former player.
He wrote on Twitter: "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."