Comment: Thomas Hitzlsperger has made a giant stride in moving the debate about homosexuality in football forward

The former Germany international has already begun to influence opinions as well as helping show the overwhelming support within the game

Take heed Phillipp Lahm. Take heed Reinhard Rauball. Take heed all those people who said that professional footballers could not come out as gay - that the reactions and repercussions would simply be too much to bear. Your argument, if not entirely disproved, has taken, to paraphrase Bjørge Lillelien, one hell of a beating.

Thomas Hitzlsperger’s coming out may only be a small step in the right direction. Yes, the former FC Bayern and Aston Villa player has been retired for four months. Yes, from the comments made by Oliver Bierhoff earlier today, it seems that he knew he would be better advised to retire before disclosing his homosexuality to anyone in the football world. But if the wave of support from hundreds of fellow professionals, politicians and commentators alike tells us anything, it is that his decision is a victory, not a setback, for tolerance in football.

Phillipp Lahm had thrown himself into the debate on several occasions. The Germany captain is among the many – Joachim Löw is another – who have needlessly been dragged into the mire of homophobia in football. Endless speculation over his own sexuality in certain corners of the German media led Lahm unwittingly onto a topic for which he was perhaps not cut out. Most notably in January of 2012, Lahm declared that “the football community is not ready to accept homosexuality as a normality”.

To be on Lahm, it probably wasn’t – and still isn’t, in very literal terms. His advice to gay players not to come out was certainly not malevolent, but it was certainly ill considered. Shortly before Lahm’s comments, the then president of the DFB Theo Zwanziger had given a lecture encouraging gay players to come out, arguing that the environment had reached a point where there was enough tolerance. Lahm’s comments, undoubtedly unwittingly, carried an air of the same fear which has led this topic to be taboo for too long, and achieved nothing but to set back the progress made by people like Zwanziger, and to plunge the rhetoric of the discussion once more into wary euphemism.

He was ineloquent, though, not wrong. Neither Zwanziger, nor Hitzlsperger, nor anyone else, would ever deny that there remains a severely outdated, testosterone laden norm in football which many other sports, and most other cultural endeavours, have managed to largely sideline. That Hitzlsperger waited until the end of his career is proof enough that there is enough prejudice in the stands and the tunnel alike to make life difficult for any openly gay, high profile footballer. But Hitzlsperger’s announcement has been greeted with far more support and praise than it has been with prejudice and intolerance.

No gay player should feel obliged to come out. Indeed, one point which seems to be overlooked when we are reminded that Hitzlsperger has retired, is that many people don’t feel mature, comfortable or brave enough to admit their homosexuality in public until they are well into adulthood. By coming out, Hitzlsperger has deliberately and knowingly politicised his own sexuality – in the interview with Die Zeit he admits that he chose to do it in the build up to the Sochi Olympics – and that is a responsibility which no one should ever be obliged to.

In doing so, however, he has achieved something that was needed desperately in professional football. Alongside Lahm, another primary offender in rendering the debate waffle-ridden and ineffectual was Reinhard Rauball. The President of Borussia Dortmund and the DFL had declared last summer that he would advise gay players not to come out. In light of today’s events, he altered his position, talking rather of the responsibility of clubs to defend any player who does wish to come out.

And there you have it. Rauball’s altered position is a far more constructive, far more accepting, and far less pressurised approach to take. It is the approach which takes the pressure of the gay players themselves to either come out or not, and puts the pressure on football to create an environment where they have the free choice to do either as they please. Within hours of coming out, Thomas Hitzlsperger had brought the debate forward, even in that small measure. He had forced Reinhard Rauball to change from sweeping, unhelpful foreboding to constructive, thoughtful solution making.

Long may the effects of Hitzlsperger’s wisdom thus continue. 

Video: Hitzlsperger on being gay

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
News
peopleLynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance moves audience to tears
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

News
news

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London