‘Italian footballers must come out’

Rome's Gay Center has praised Thomas Hitzlsperger, a German footballer who played for Lazio, for going public about his homosexuality and said Italian players should do the same.

'Italian footballers must come out'
Thomas Hitzlsperger publicly came out as gay on Wednesday. Photo: Oliver Lang/AFP

The 31-year-old retired footballer came out in a newspaper interview on Wednesday, saying he did so in order to “have a public debate about homosexuality” among professional sportsmen.

Hitzlsperger – who in addition to Lazio also played for clubs in both the German Bundesliga and the English Premier League – said that homosexuality is not seen as a “serious issue, at least not in the changing room".

"It was not always easy to sit on a table with 20 young men and listen to jokes about gays," he told Germany’s Zeit newspaper.

Responding to the news, Rome’s Gay Center said Hitzlsperger’s announcement should be seen as an opportunity for Italy’s gay footballers to come out.

“Are there gay players in Italy? We think so. They should do as Hitzlsperger and state it publicly,” the organization said in a statement.

Sports stars coming out "would be a positive message, above all for young people, which would help combat homophobia," the Gay Center said.

Hitzlsperger played for Lazio in 2010, before moving to London to play for West Ham United. The former Germany player also had stints at Premiership clubs Aston Villa and Everton and a number of teams in his home country. He retired from football in September, due to a knee injury.

SEE ALSO: The Local’s German of the week – Thomas Hitzlsperger

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Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.