Gareth Thomas is hailed for coming out

THE decision by Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas to go public about his homosexuality appeared to have been vindicated last night after the player revealed what he called an "amazing response" to his announcement.

The most capped player in Welsh rugby history also said he hoped he could make a difference to others struggling with their sexuality.

Thomas, 35, a former British and Irish Lions captain, said: "I just want to thank everyone for the amazing response I have received, on behalf of me, my family and friends. I hope that by saying this I can make a big difference to others in my situation. But for now, I just want to focus on being a rugby player."

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Thomas, below, who has 100 international caps, played for the final eight minutes of yesterday's Heineken Cup match between his club Cardiff Blues and Toulouse in France. He was unable to prevent a comprehensive 23-7 victory by the French side.

Thomas had earlier said he was "anxious about people's reactions" after becoming the first professional rugby player to confirm that he is gay.

The secret of his sexuality had been a "ticking bomb" which he had tried to suppress, but he added: "I just couldn't ignore it any more."

Thomas told his wife, Jemma, that he was gay in 2006 and the couple are now divorcing, though they remain firm friends.

The 6ft 3in, 16-stone player told Welsh coach Scott Johnson that he was gay shortly afterwards, and other members of the Wales squad were also made aware and supported Thomas.

Thomas gave one main reason for coming out: "It's been really tough for me, hiding who I really am, and I don't want it to be like that for the next young person who wants to play rugby, or some frightened young kid."

A long-term supporter of the children's charity NSPCC, Thomas added: "I don't know if my life is going to be easier because I'm out, but if it helps someone else, if it makes one young lad pick up the phone to Childline, then it will have been worth it."

Roger Lewis, the Welsh Rugby Union group chief executive, said: "Just as we support Gareth at this time, that stance will remain consistent for any player. Whilst Gareth's private life is entirely irrelevant to his career as an international sportsman it would be remiss of the WRU not to remind him of the high esteem in which he is held in the game in Wales at a time when he has decided to bring such personal reflections to public notice."

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Robert Norster, Cardiff Blues chief executive, said: "Gareth Thomas is a credit to Cardiff Blues who has truly brought honour to the jersey as a formidable player and a strong leader.

"His private life is his own concern and we will continue to acknowledge him for the qualities he brings to the squad as a player and an individual who exemplifies the values of commitment, determination and fair play we expect from our team."

Last night, the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said Thomas' decision could help other gay sportsmen and women. He said: "It is very positive Gareth has come out while he is still an active player. Many of the sports people who have declared their homosexuality have tended to do so after their careers are over. Hopefully this will ease the way for other gay and bisexual players to also come out."

Tatchell added: "Quite a few fear negative reactions from team-mates and fans and others are anxious they might lose sponsorship deals. Others feel their clubs would not be supportive."

Only one British professional footballer, the former Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, Airdrieonians and Hearts player Justin Fashanu, has ever openly acknowledged his homosexuality. Fashanu killed himself in 1998 after a 17-year-old American accused him of sexual assault, a charge he denied, claiming the sex was consensual.