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Don't be afraid, Merkel tells gay players

The German chancellor Angela Merkel has told gay players they need not fear coming out after a Bundeliga player, in an anonymous interview, said he believed homosexuals would never fit with the heterosexual nature of the game.

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The player, who spoke to Fluter, said he, along with several other players in Germany's top division, is gay and explained: "I have to be an actor every day and go into self-denial."

His remarks led Merkel, speaking at a press conference in Berlin, to say: "You need not fear. I am of the opinion that everyone who has the strength and courage [to come out] should know that we live in a state where he essentially does not have to be fearful. That is my political statement."

The chancellor said German politics had made a lot of progress to get to a stage at which politicians could, if they chose to, be open about their sexuality. Prominent gay politicians include the Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit - who said "I am gay - and that's a good thing, too" - and foreign secretary Guido Westerwelle.

Merkel, however, said she was well aware that football has not reached that stage yet, explaining: "We have to acknowledge there are still fears when it comes to the social environment [in football]. We can only give a signal: You need not fear."

Uli Hoeness, the Bayern Munich president, said he believed a professional player would come out "sooner or later" and urged the clubs to "be well prepared for it, so they can give the right response".

He said the reaction of fans was "unforeseeable" but stressed that the first step would be up to the player concerned and that his club should provide help and support.

The 60-year-old said any player who chose to come out would not have to fear for his safety, but stressed that the potential emotional difficulties involved were a different matter, and that clubs should be ready to protect anyone who chose to make their sexuality public.

German league boss Reinhard Rauball said: "It is an unsolved problem. We need to find an answer in social consent. No-one can oversee the disadvantages looming for a player coming out."

In his interview with Fluter, the anonymous player said: "The price I pay for living my dream as a Bundesliga player is high. I have to be an actor every day and go into self-denial.

"Unlike other celebrities, football players have to follow the footballer stereotype. They have to love sports, fight aggressively and be a role model at the same time. And gays don't follow that formula. I would not be safe any more if my sexuality was made public.

"I know of other Bundesliga players who are gay as well," he said. "We don't meet - it would just be too noticeable. It is a difficult parallel universe which continues inside the team.

"We don't talk about it much, nevertheless everyone knows about it. They sometimes ask me about my partner. I know all their stories from the papers, but they have to ask me to find out."

The player said he was unsure whether players coming out would help to change attitudes significantly, adding: "It might be easier to get over if several players outed themselves at once, but I don't have a lot of hope this would help. We'd still be a minority to harp on about."