Former NBA star John Amaechi believes football has a “toxic” approach towards homosexuality and claims FIFA are not doing enough to help gay players in the wake of Thomas Hitzlsperger becoming the most high-profile footballer to come out.
Hitzlsperger, 31, revealed his sexuality in an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit on Wednesday, becoming only the fourth professional footballer to do so after former Norwich forward Justin Fashanu, Swedish lower league player Anton Hysen and Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Robbie Rogers.
Amaechi made headlines the world over when he became the first openly gay NBA player in 2007 and he feels that football, like many sports, has a poisonous attitude toward homosexuality.
“It isn't a big deal for an awful lot of people, but within sport there is still a problem,” Amaechi said to BBC Sport. "The real problem, especially with football, is that it has never evaluated itself properly. The sport has never understood just how toxic it is.
“Football is toxic and not just for gay people -- it's toxic for Asians who want to play the game, it's toxic for women who want to be executives, it's toxic for black people who want to do anything but play. It's toxic in many different ways, but football doesn't see itself like that.
“It sees itself as this amazing, wonderful, bold and progressive organisation. As an analogy, it is the fat bloke who looks at himself in the mirror and beaming back at him is an Adonis. It's a self-image that bears no resemblance on reality.
“Footballers coming out at the highest level will happen only as the product of a cultural change within the game. It will not be the precursor to cultural change in football. If you want to see people being who they are, coming out and playing at their very best because they're able to be who they are, then the culture of football must change first.”
Amaechi pointed the finger directly at FIFA, accusing world football’s governing body of being run by “neanderthals” and criticising the organisation for failing to combat homophobia or provide adequate support for gay players.
"I think it is a good thing Hitzlsperger has done, he is held in positive regard as a role model,” Amaechi told the Mirror. "The truth is the people who run football are the ones creating this environment. The fans follow the implicit lack of breadth when it comes to issues of difference from the top.
"[FIFA president Sepp] Blatter couldn't have a job anywhere else. In an equivalent corporate environment he would be out in a day. Neanderthals seem to be only able to hang on to power in sport. They could sort it out in two years, but it is way behind.
"It takes actions, not just pretty posters. Until they stab in the heart the ignorance, mythology and nonsense which is around bigotry then nothing will change. They are loath to do that, because it will involve some self-examination [which] they are not comfortable with. They refuse to hire people who will educate and challenge them."
Hitzlsperger decision to publicly reveal his sexuality has been hailed by figures in the football world and beyond, with his former Stuttgart teammate Timo Hildebrand, now of Schalke, saying on Facebook: “My deepest respect, Hitze. Very courageous!”
Elsewhere, the spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “We live in a country where nobody should be afraid of acknowledging their sexuality for fear of intolerance. And I think that as a country, as a society, we've made enormous progress in this area. We judge footballers by whether they conduct themselves well and with dignity on and off the pitch, and I believe both are true for Mr. Hitzlsperger."