Lauda presents new sponsor among anti-gay dancing dispute

Niki Lauda has found a new “head sponsor”.The three-time Formula One (F1) champion almost died when his Ferrari caught fire at the Nürburgring racing course in Germany in 1976. “I didn’t want people looking at the black, burnt skin,” he explained when being asked why he decided to don a baseball cap. The businessman, who heads airline FlyNiki, has rarely taken off the cap since.Lauda sported a new, dark blue hat featuring the label of a new sponsor for the first time in Kitzbühel, Tyrol, where three Alpine World Cup skiing races took place this weekend.The 61-year-old denied to reveal how much he earns from Liechtenstein-based financial company Money Service Group for having their logo on his trademark garment. Money Service Group also sponsors active sport stars like Austrian World Cup skier Michael Walchhofer.It is the first time in many years that Lauda’s cap is not red. The Vienna-born businessman nicknamed “Niki Nazionale” can look back on sponsoring deals with Swiss technology firm Oerlikon, German heating solutions company Viessmann and Italian dairy business Parmalat. Reports have it that Lauda raked in between 1.2 million and 1.5 million Euros a year in the various sponsorship agreements.Lauda, whose low-cost carrier registered 3.1 million passengers last year, has also appeared in various TV commercials for Austrian online bank ING-DiBa since 2009.Speaking about his deal with Money Service Group, Lauda said: “I received several requests from companies from the whole world and was able to pick the one I preferred. I’m a future-orientated person and Money Service Group is a future-orientated company.”Lauda – the best known Austrian sportsman alongside tennis player Thomas Muster, skiing legend Hermann Maier and hockey ace Thomas Vanek – attended several VIP gatherings in “Kitz” last weekend.”Terminator” star Arnold Schwarzenegger was also expected to turn up at the posh ski resort, but eventually cancelled the trip after his father-in-law Robert Sargent Shriver Jr. passed away. It would have been the first time for “Arnie” to step on Austrian soil again after more than a year.The presentation of Lauda’s new main sponsor was overshadowed by the serious crash of Austrian skier Hans Grugger – and controversial statements by Lauda about a gay TV presenter’s plans to partner up with a men on Austria’s version of “Strictly Come Dancing”.National broadcaster ORF revealed last week that homosexual singer and entertainer Alfons Haider will compete with professional dancer Balazs Ekker in the upcoming “Dancing Stars” series.”For me, it won’t be about the gay issue. It should be all about the fun – I’m not the gay Joan of Arc! I’m looking forward to dancing with Balazs,” Haider stressed.Now Lauda has allegedly accused the ORF of “destroying important traditions of this country”. The businessman is quoted as saying by tabloid newspaper Österreich today (Mon): “I don’t want my kids to see a man dancing with another man – it could tempt them to imitate it. Men have danced with women in our culture for centuries, and I think this tradition should not be wrecked.”Österreich reports Lauda accused the TV channel of allowing Haider to dance with a man only to achieve good market shares. Lauda said: “I appeal on ORF boss Alexander Wrabetz to stop these gay dancing plans.”Lauda told the newspaper he has nothing against homosexuals. “It’s the opposite, in fact. I employ many gay people at FlyNiki. I just don’t want children and young people to get a wrong impression of the distribution of roles in dancing.”