Claims that a dwarf entertainer was set on fire during a prank at an Australian Football League (AFL) club were being investigated yesterday in arguably the sport’s most bizarre end-of-season celebration yet.
The incident prompted an apology from AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou, who laughed and giggled on live television when told of the allegations against a St Kilda player, which he said he initially thought were a joke.
The dwarf, Blake Johnston, and colleague Arthur Serevetas were reportedly booked by the club to entertain players at their so-called “Mad Monday” event this week, but things allegedly got out of hand.
Channel Nine said a group of players began using a lighter to set fire to each other’s clothes. Then, a player, who has not been named, is said to have turned his attention to Johnston, who is also a wrestler and goes by the moniker Mr Big.
“A player went behind my friend with one of those gas lighters that you light up a stove [with] and basically lit him up,” Serevetas told the Footy Classified show.
“Part of his shirt and pants caught on fire. After that, someone put it out and he got ticked off and we basically left,” he said. “That was the end of our gig, basically.”
Johnston was quickly helped by other players and suffered only minor injuries, the reports said.
Serevetas said he considered the St Kilda player’s conduct as criminal and has advised his colleague to take action.
Victorian State Police confirmed a complaint had been lodged and that they were investigating, while the club said in a statement it was looking into the matter.
When Demetriou was told of the incident on live television, he began giggling — a reaction which sparked angry reaction on social media.
He later apologized, saying he had thought it was a joke.
“I was actually giggling at the beginning ... because I thought they were having me on. I thought it was a joke,” he said.
“After I found out that it was true, it’s just reprehensible,” Demetriou said. “I was flabbergasted because in the scheme of all the things we’ve been [through], that would have been one I could never have predicted that we would deal with.”
“It wasn’t meant to be offensive and I apologize to anyone who is offended,” he added.
Mad Monday celebrations, invariably alcohol-fueled and in fancy dress, have a long history of making the wrong headlines.
In 2010, Joel Monaghan, a former Canberra player in the National Rugby League, simulated a sex act with a dog at a Mad Monday party following the 2010 season, sparking global shame when a photograph of the incident went viral.
AFL club North Melbourne’s tasteless 2009 video of a condom-clad rubber chicken performing sex acts, which found its way onto YouTube, also attracted criticism.
Aussie Rules has endured a tough season, with Essendon coach James Hird banned for 12 months and the side hit with the biggest fine in the sport’s history — A$2 million (US$1.8 million) — over a drug supplements scandal.