Thomas won 100 caps for Wales and three caps for the Lions
Former Wales and Lions captain Gareth Thomas has broken one of the major taboos that surround sport by revealing he is gay.
The 35-year-old joins stars like basketball's John Amaechi and hurling's Donal Og Cusack who have come out.
"Just because you are gay, it doesn't mean you fancy every man who walks the planet," Thomas told the Daily Mail.
"I don't want to be known as a gay rugby player. I am a rugby player first and foremost. I am a man."
Cardiff Blues utility back Thomas said he had been through "all sorts of emotions" over the issue, since first knowing he was gay in his late teens.
He revealed that he was "anxious about people's reactions" to him being gay and that he felt he could not have come out earlier in his rugby career.
"It is the toughest, most macho of male sports, and with that comes an image," Thomas said.
"In many ways, it is barbaric, and I could never have come out without first establishing myself and earning respect as a player.
'Time is right'
"Rugby was my passion, my whole life, and I wasn't prepared to risk losing everything I loved."
Thomas went on to win 100 caps for Wales and three for the Lions, and has played for Bridgend and Cardiff and spent three years in France with Toulouse, before returning to south Wales in 2007.
He feels attitudes have changed and the time is right for sport to start accepting openly gay people in the same way other professions have in recent years.
"I just happen to be gay," he added. "It's irrelevant.
"What I choose to do when I close the door at home has nothing to do with what I have achieved in rugby.
"It's pretty tough for me being the only international rugby player prepared to break the taboo.
"Statistically I can't be the only one, but I'm not aware of any other gay player still in the game.
"I'd love for it, in 10 years' time, not to even be an issue in sport, and for people to say: 'So what?'"
Thomas retired from international duty after captaining Wales' exit from the 2007 World Cup.
But he admitted it was on Wales duty at an earlier time when he first broke the news to former Wales caretaker coach Scott Johnson over his sexuality and the break-up of his marriage to his wife Jemma.
"My life seemed to be falling apart," he added. "Jemma and I were splitting up, and I was scared of the future and being single again as a gay man.
Rush of relief
"Somehow, the coach had guessed," said Thomas. "He took me out of the team room to the medical room, locked the door and I told him everything.
"After keeping it secret for so long, I felt a huge rush of relief.
"Scott said: 'Right, I've got to speak now to three or four players in the Welsh team because you need the boys to surround you and support you. You can't cope with this on your own,' and he was right.
"He told two of my team-mates, Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams, and as I sat in the bar waiting for them, I was absolutely terrified, wondering what they were going to say.
There's still a bit of stigma from some people but as far as the rugby community goes as a whole, I'm sure he'll be very pleasantly surprised like I was
Top rugby referee Nigel Owens, who came out in 2007
"But they came in, patted me on the back and said: 'We don't care. Why didn't you tell us before?'
"Two of my best mates in rugby didn't even blink an eyelid."
But Thomas said one of his lowest points was cheating on Jemma, which drove him to the edge.
"Sometimes I felt so alone and depressed," he added.
"I used to go to the cliffs overlooking the beach near our cottage in St Brides Major and just think about jumping off and ending it all."
Welsh rugby referee Nigel Owens, who came out in 2007, told BBC Radio 5 live that he thought Thomas would receive a positive reaction from the public.
"There's still a bit of stigma from some people but as far as the rugby community goes as a whole, I'm sure he'll be very pleasantly surprised like I was," he said.
"You'll get some issues from some individuals but that's the same across society as a whole.
"I think people will respect him as a person and as a player - he's a person just like anybody else, who just happens to be one of the great players Wales have had over the years and who just happens to be gay."
The Welsh Rugby Union group chief executive, Roger Lewis, said: "Gareth Thomas is one of Welsh rugby's outstanding players, a former captain, he holds the national appearance record (100 caps) and has scored 40 tries for his country.
"He was at the helm for the 2005 RBS Six Nations Grand Slam, Wales' first clean sweep in the annual competition since 1978, and also captained the British and Irish Lions during their summer tour of New Zealand earlier that year.
"Gareth is a rugby leader and also a man of great humour. He is most probably one of the most popular players amongst his peers.
"He has been an inspiration to generations of rugby followers and continues to play at the top level of the game with the Cardiff Blues.
"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."
Cardiff Blues chief executive Robert Norster added: "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.
"Gareth will always be revered for his achievements as a player and he deserves his place of honour in Welsh rugby history.
"Our teams are selected on merit and we will always choose players with the talent and ability to achieve the demanding standards we now set."
Also: Listen to an interview with referee Nigel Owens on Gareth Thomas in the Welsh languagehere.
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