A leading German footballer has urged gay players to come out and called for a radical rethink about homosexuality in the sport.
The Bayern Munich striker Mario Gomez has broken ranks with the football establishment, including members of his own team and the German football federation, who have warned that coming out could destroy a player's career.
But Gomez, who has not said whether he is gay, told a German magazine that being honest about their sexuality would improve gay players' performance.
They would play as if they had been liberated, Gomez said.
Being gay should no longer be a taboo topic.
The 25-year-old, who was voted German footballer of the year in 2006-7, added that there were plenty of role models in the rest of German society to give gay players the courage to come out.
We've got a gay vice-chancellor [Guido Westerwelle]; the Berlin mayor [Klaus Wowereit] is gay. So professional footballers should own up to their preference, he said.
There are no openly gay players in Germany's Bundesliga, reflecting the situation across the football world, although it is estimated that about 10% of players are gay.
The only German footballer to have come out is Marcus Urban, who told his teammates in 1997 and promptly ended his professional career. The 39-year-old waited until 2007 before going public with his story, saying he had hoped to encourage other gay players and trainers to come out and thus contribute to more acceptance and tolerance in football.
Gomez is the first leading player to urge his homosexual colleagues to go public. Others have been vehemently against such a move, saying it would harm a footballer's career.
In an interview this year, Tim Wiese, who plays in goal for the national team and Werder Bremen, advised gay players against coming out, saying they would be “destroyed” by “merciless fans”.
Despite the fact that it now has lots of female fans, football is still a macho sport, he said.
Philipp Lahm, a defender for Bayern Munich who captained the German team at the World Cup in South Africa, told Playboy magazine in an interview that players would be unable to cope with the pressure of outing themselves.
A player who chooses to out himself has to carry out his job in front of tens of thousands of spectators.
The German football federation (DFB) said that while it was campaigning against homophobia in football and would support any player who chose to come out, it could not ignore the problems that would accompany such a decision.
The first homosexual who outs himself in professional football will not have an easy time of it, said DFB president Theo Zwanziger.
I had thought it would not be the case, because in politics, art and culture it is no longer a problem. Even amateur football deals with it better, but professional football appears to be more set in its ways.
Gomez's comments were made in a week in which German football has been reflecting on the death a year ago of national goalkeeper Robert Enke, who suffered from chronic depression and killed himself.
Enke's death has contributed to a new spirit of openness in the sport, including encouraging players to have the courage to share their personal problems.
The only British footballer to have outed himself while active in the sport was Justin Fashanu in 1990. The Sun newspaper paid him a six-figure sum to run the headline:
I am gay. Fashanu killed himself in 1998 after a 17-year-old boy accused him of sexual assault, a charge he denied.