A former German football referee has said each team has at least three gay players.

Well-known referee Babak Rafati said gay and bi players stay in the closet and pretend to have girlfriends.

“Yes, I know gay footballers and referees in the [German premier league] Bundesliga,” he said. “There are three to four gay players in every team.”

Rafati said gay players are forced to display affection with women for appearances “but in reality, they don’t really fancy the lady”.

In 2014 former player Thomas Hitzelsperger came out publicly as gay, five months after ending his football career. He is the highest-profile player in Germany to open up about his sexuality.

Rafati said there is hope for a professional player to come out and remain in the sport, and suggested a group of gay players could come out together in solidarity as a first step.

“If two per club and three from the national team were to stand there, together during a press conference, then you’d make an impact,” he said.

A few openly gay German footballers have made headlines in the past, mostly limited to regional leagues.

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