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Formula One legend Niki Lauda came under fire in his native Austria on Tuesday after calling for a ban on gay dancing on public television.
The 61-year-old sporting hero, who was three times F1 world champion and now runs his own airline, said in a newspaper interview this week that openly gay actor and presenter Alfons Haider should be stopped from performing with a heterosexual man on the upcoming series of "Dancing With the Stars".
In comments to the tabloid daily Oesterreich, Lauda insisted he was not being being homophobic in demanding that the public broadcaster ORF pull the show.
"I have absolutely nothing against homosexuals.
In fact, quite the contrary. In my airline Fly Niki I even have a few working for me, there is even some who are trainers," Lauda said.
"All I want is that children and teenagers don't get to see the wrong role models in dancing.
"There are so many good things in our culture and one of those is that men dance with women. At this rate we will soon have to be saying sorry because we are heterosexual."
Lauda said that it was part of ORF's remit to show young men dancing with other young men.
"You don't see that in discos or balls so why should you see it on the television. I don't want my children to see on public television that a man is dancing with a man and that they believe that they should do the same," he said.
Haider has previously been a presenter on Austria's version of Dancing Stars, but wants to perform -- with heterosexual professional Balazs Ekke -- on the show in March.
Vienna's gay and lesbian initiative HOSI said it was shocked by Lauda's comments.
"If Niki Lauda doesn't like gays, that's his own private affair. But as someone who stands in the limelight and as head of a company which employs lots of homosexual men and women, he should be very careful about what he says in public," said HOSI chief Kurt Krickler.
Such comments were effectively "mass-media sexual harrassment and mobbing," Krickler argued.
HOSI said it had invited Lauda to Vienna's "Rainbow Ball" in the Hofburg Palace on February 12 to "show him lesbians and gays and heterosexuals dancing together in a wonderful atmosphere."
Politicians from the socialist SPOe and environmentalist Green parties were also quick to slam Lauda's comments.
Haider himself told the daily Die Presse that Lauda's remarks "disqualify themselves. They require no further comment."
It is not the first time a same-sex couple has appeared on the different international versions of "Dancing With the Stars".
In Israel last year, Gili Shem Tov, an openly gay TV sportscaster, was paired with heterosexual professional female dancer Dorit Milman.
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