UK Rugby star Gareth Thomas has said other professional athletes have confided to him that they are gay, UK tabloid The Daily Star reported.

Thomas, who retired from rugby late last year, publicly acknowledged he is gay in 2009. The 37-year-old Welshman's coming out inspired other professional athletes to come out, including English cricketer Steven Michael Davies and Swedish footballer (European soccer) Anton Hysen.

“I have had sports stars speak to me and tell me they are gay but they are not open about it,” Thomas told the paper. “I was lucky that I had such support from my family and friends.”

“Anyone who's told me they are gay I will take their secret to the grave. They must choose their own time to come out,” he said.

Thomas added it could be years before the athletes publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation because homophobia remains entrenched in the sports world.

Thomas was among the 12 housemates who competed on Channel 5's recently ended reality series Celebrity Big Brother UK. He came in third.