Have you considered leaving South Africa?
Ex-national player Thomas Hitzlsperger : "Exclusion shapes you"
Mr. Hitzlsperger, you played 52 international matches for Germany, became German champions with VfB Stuttgart and played as a professional in England and Italy. At the beginning of 2014 you were one of the first German professionals to come out. That took courage. Where did you get that from?
I thought about it for a while and talked to friends beforehand. In the end, I just felt that it was right and important to initiate a discussion about homosexuality in professional football.
How has the situation changed since then?
For me personally, not much has changed. My circle of friends has stayed about the same. The changes that have taken place in politics with regard to “marriage for all” are encouraging. The biggest turning point in my life was when I finished my footballing career. I now work for VfB Stuttgart and work as an expert on television. I couldn't foresee the multitude of tasks four years ago.
You have also been an ambassador for diversity at the DFB since the end of May. This position did not exist before. What does this role mean?
I was in close contact with the DFB for a couple of years regarding the role of an ambassador. Now I am happy that I can contribute my experience, especially in light of the upcoming EM application, in which sustainability plays a major role. With regard to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, we can provide important impetus in the area of diversity. It is important that the team stands for it. And there is no doubt that the German national soccer team in particular represents diversity.
You came out at the end of your active career. Does that make a difference?
Difference to what? I have no comparison. In retrospect, however, there is no decision that I regret.
They call themselves anti-discrimination influencers. What do you mean by that?
I am committed and use my fame for a socio-political issue and not for a product.
At VfB you work in management ...
Exactly, I am a member of the Presidium and also responsible for talent in the youth sector. I also want to make our players aware of what it means to be a role model. It is enriching to get involved, I want to pass that on.
Linked to this role is that your sexuality is central. Can that be annoying too?
If I put them first, it could be annoying. But I don't do that.
You have already been to Russia with the DFB, which is no easy feat when it comes to homophobia. How was your experience?
Before my trips to the Confed Cup for ARD and as an ambassador for the DFB this year, I was admittedly a bit skeptical. In retrospect, I was happy to have been to Moscow and Saint Petersburg in person. The exchange at the Petersburg Dialogue in particular was a special experience. I had the opportunity to talk about my role as an ambassador for diversity and also to learn more about German-Russian relations.
How was that received?
Those present listened attentively, but did not elaborate on the subject. They preferred to talk about the security aspects of the upcoming World Cup and their problems with hooligans. The most defining sentence that someone said there for me was: The majority is right. Because that automatically also means that the minority is wrong, and they are not squeamish when dealing with minorities. I thought that was violent. It gave me a better understanding of why minorities are marginalized. This deal shocked me.
When one speaks of diversity, it is always about the rights of minorities, about ethnic, cultural, sexual diversity and about people with disabilities. What do these minorities have in common?
Most people belonging to a minority group experience marginalization at some point. Exclusion and rejection shape one. What matters is how you deal with this experience.
Kevin-Prince Boateng once left the pitch with his colleagues from AC Milan during a game when he was racially insulted. You don't know that from Germany. Isn't that a way for teams to pacify the stadiums?
Naturally. This applies to any form of discrimination. It was a strong sign that the team left the pitch together with Kevin.
The fans of your former club Lazio are known for their open racism ...
I experienced it first hand. In the fault indicator ...
... a blog of the time ...
... I wrote about my first experience of being a foreigner myself. One of my teammates was racially insulted during a game, but nothing happened. It just kept playing. That opened my eyes.
You also had an insight into English football. How is it there compared to Germany?
The English association tries very hard and involves the players. But here, too, it is often two steps forward and one step back. I did not experience racism within the team.
There have already been particularly severe cases in Berlin amateur football. What advice would you give parents whose children are discriminated against?
Kevin-Prince Boateng said in an interview the other day that he always advises you to defend yourself against racist insults. He ate it up as a teenager and can say from good experience that it is better to defend yourself.
Its aim is to ensure that dealing with homosexuality becomes normal. This is transferable to all things that distinguish people from other people. What can football do here?
The national team is the flagship of the DFB. If diversity and tolerance continue to be lived, that is a good signal. The more players are aware of their responsibility and get involved, the greater the effect. The importance of football will not diminish in the next few years.
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