Lauda in hot water after anti-male dancing couple attack

Niki Lauda has been accused of having prejudices towards homosexuals.The Formula One (F1) legend and aviation businessman caused a stir some days ago by urging Alexander Wrabetz, head of state-owned TV channel ORF, to ban gay entertainer Alfons Haider from competing in “Dancing Stars” with a male dancing partner.Lauda said the teaming up of Haider and Hungarian dancing ace Balazs Ekker in the upcoming series of the popular TV show could mean that “children and young people get a wrong impression of the distribution of roles in dancing.”The 61-year-old – who denied being homophobic – added: “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.””Dancing Stars” – the Austrian version of international TV hit “Strictly Come Dancing” – is one of the ORF’s most popular primetime shows in years. It was first screened in 2005. Its sixth series will be presented by Mirjam Weichselbraun and Klaus Eberhartinger. The show, which was previously hosted by Haider, will start in March.Christian Högl, head of non-government organisation (NGO) HOSI, said today (Tues): “We are deeply shocked and quite surprised that Mr Lauda has such prejudices towards homosexuals.”Högl, whose organisation represents gay rights, called on Lauda to apologise. The HOSI head also said: “Lauda claimed men do not dance with men – I would like to invite him to attend the next Viennese Regenbogenball (Rainbow Ball).”The 14th edition of the event organised by HOSI will take place at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna on 12 February.Kurt Stürzenbecher, the Social Democrats’ (SPÖ) discrimination issues spokesman, criticised Lauda over his remarks. He said: “Just let Haider dance.”Haider himself only said: “(Lauda’s) statements disqualify themselves. I don’t have to comment them in any way.”Wrabetz said he felt “confirmed” in his decision to allow Haider to team up with a man in the show since the topic has dominated the headlines in the past few days.It is not the first time that Lauda, who won three F1 titles, has caused controversy with debatable statements.The FlyNiki CEO claimed at the 2008 Life Ball – the biggest AIDS/HIV awareness event in the world – that many people would ignore the ball’s appeals for safer sex.Lauda said many people would get AIDS that night by having unprotected sex at Vienna city hall and outside the event venue.Life Ball organiser Gery Keszler announced ahead of the 2009 Life Ball that Dominic Heinzl – who interviewed Lauda for private channel ATV in the year before – will not be granted access at the upcoming edition of the event.Heinzl then argued Lauda had been given just two of the overall 100 minutes of airtime in which ATV used to cover the 2008 Life Ball. The TV presenter – who have since left ATV to rejoin ORF – also stressed that Lauda made the same comments in an interview with the ORF’s pop music radio station Ö3 without any consequences for ORF reporters.Keszler, who has been at odds with Heinzl on other issues before, eventually scrapped the ban after Heinzl handed out leaflets outside the Life Ball press conferences to make aware of the controversial decision.Some news commentators claimed Lauda’s credibility as a businessman has suffered recently as he presented plans to sue European aviation authorities before dropping the issue.In 2010 The FlyNiki boss threatened to take Eurocontrol to court over losses his airline suffered during the airspace lockdown brought about by the ash cloud caused by a volcanic eruption in Iceland. The authority ordered airlines to cancel hundreds of flights after the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull – a move branded as a “pure gut decision” by Lauda. He claimed his company suffered losses of around six million Euros because of the shutdown of European air traffic.Austrian Airlines (AUA) had expressed that they would support FlyNiki’s lawsuit before Lauda explained in June that he will not go to court over the issue, saying: “My lawyer gave me a success chance of 60 per cent. I saw a 50 per cent prospect of winning the court case.”Lauda said he decided to withdraw the lawsuit when his legal team found he would have to go to court against the Republic of Austria and not Eurocontrol.”I don’t want to sue Austria,” he said, adding: “The risk of a legal action is enormous, I’ve been told by my lawyers. Apart from that, it takes a lot of time and is bloody expensive.”Lauda’s airline registered 3.1 million passengers in 2010 after recording around 2.6 million customers in the previous year.The retired racing driver said recently that he feared FlyNiki’s passenger figures will dwindle again due to the flight ticket tax the federal Austrian government of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) have agreed to implement. The levy, which will charge every flight ticket with between eight and 40 Euros depending on the destinations, will come into effect in April 2011.Lauda did not try to hide his anger about the coalition’s decision which came as part of a package of measures to lower the state debt.The FlyNiki chairman announced: ” The tax might reduce (FlyNiki’s) customer number by 100,000 (a year). This would mean a 10 million Euros decrease in turnover.”Lauda stressed he regarded the new tax as “incredibly unfair and anti-social madness.”He added: “I think every Austrian family has the right to fly away for a holiday once a year. Now many families won’t be able to do so.”Lauda made headlines by saying he could imagine relocating FlyNiki’s headquarters from Vienna to Bratislava and operate mostly at the Slovakian capital’s airport if the SPÖ and ÖVP do not make a U-turn on the issue. Lauda has however failed to take any action so far.