The captain of the England women’s soccer team, Casey Stoney, has for the first time spoken publicly about being gay.
Stoney, 31, told the BBC on Monday she had taken the decision to come out after the positive reaction to British Olympic diver Tom Daley’s announcement that he is in a relationship with a man.
Her decision comes after former Germany international Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed last month that he was homosexual, becoming one of very few male players to do so.
It was also made just after a US university star footballer, Michael Sam, revealed his homosexuality to US media ahead of the NFL draft in May.
Stoney, who plays for Arsenal Ladies and has won 116 caps for England, said she was also happy to make her sexuality public because she was in a “loving relationship.”
“I was living a lie,” she said. “I’ve never hidden it within football circles because it is accepted, but to the outside world, I’ve never spoken about my sexuality.”
“I feel it’s really important for me to speak out as a gay player because there are so many people struggling who are gay, and you hear about people taking their own lives because they are homosexual. That should never happen,” she said.
“How can I expect other people to speak about themselves if I’m not willing to do that myself?” Stoney added.
She said the decision had taken “a long while to get to,” but that “a huge weight” had been lifted from her shoulders.
Stoney, who plays in the semi-professional Women’s Super League, said homosexuality was more accepted in the women’s game than the men’s.
She estimated there are “maybe two or three” gay players in some teams.
With Russia under the spotlight for its attitude to homosexuality as it hosts the Sochi Winter Olympics, Stoney said she would not be attending the men’s soccer World Cup in Russia in 2018 unless there is a change in attitudes.
“I won’t be going to Russia or Qatar to watch a World Cup because I wouldn’t be accepted there,” she said. “I think it’s incredible that these countries get World Cups and Olympics when they don’t accept everybody to go there and be part of it.”
“There will be [Olympic] athletes competing out [in Sochi] who are gay. I can’t imagine how frightened they must feel going out there and competing,” Stoney said.