Gay rights groups in Austria are furiously demanding three-time World Champion Niki Lauda apologise for remarks he made about the pairing of an openly gay celebrity with a male dancer on a TV dance show.
Alfons Haider, a 53-year-old TV presenter, is set to dance with a male professional dancer on Austria’s Dancing Stars show, the local interpretation of the Dancing With the Stars and Strictly Come Dancing serials famous worldwide.
Sixty-one-year-old Lauda has told Austrian daily newspaper Osterreich that he felt the pairing was inappropriate for prime-time television.
“There are some good traditions in our culture, one of which is that men dance with women,” he is quoted.
“Soon we will reach the stage where we will all have to publicly apologise for being heterosexual.”
Lauda added (quoted by Germany’s Bild newspaper) that he had no problem with two men dancing together, “…as long as they do it at home and not on TV, when children are watching.”
Lauda has insisted that he is not homophobic, and would have no problem if it emerged that his son (a fellow racing driver), Mathias, were gay. Lauda added that he has employed “loads” of gay staff for his airline businesses.
But that hasn’t stopped Lauda from calling for the partnership to be axed from the show, stating: “I demand that the [station’s] general director, Alex Wrabetz, who is in an upright marriage, stops this gay dance number.”
Mr Wrabetz responded: “I don’t chose Mr Lauda’s pilots and he doesn’t choose our dancers.”
Christian Hogl, the chairman of Vienna’s GLBTI rights group HOSI, has also called for action on Lauda’s comments.
“We are really shocked and very surprised that Mr Lauda harbours such prejudice against homosexuals to make such an unjustified attack,” he said.
Hogl has in turn invited Lauda to attend the city’s annual Rainbow Ball next month in a bid to educate him about gay rights.
This is certainly not the first time that Lauda has courted controversy for his remarks, having previously been made to apologise for “Polack” remarks made in reference to Renault F1 driver Robert Kubica.
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