Dylan Cleaver on sport

Sport analysis and comment from APN's Head of Sport Dylan Cleaver

Dylan Cleaver: Consequences dwarf mad rite

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AFL boss Andrew Demetriou initially laughed at the idea of a dwarf set on fire.
AFL boss Andrew Demetriou initially laughed at the idea of a dwarf set on fire.

It's Mad Monday season and, right on cue, the insanity starts.

The AFL got the ball rolling this week with a couple of stunts straight out of the "I'm a footy player, I'm an idiot" handbook.

First we had St Kilda's Clinton Jones fined A$3000 for setting a dwarf alight, something AFL boss Andrew Demetriou found amusing when first approached on live TV.

"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 it was true, it's just reprehensible."

There's a curious contradiction there: joking about incinerating dwarfs is high humour; lighting dwarfs on fire is reprehensible.

You can just imagine evenings of laughter around the Demetriou buffet: "Hey dad, did you hear the one about the footy players who tipped a man out of his wheelchair while he was waiting for his taxi..." "Ha-ha-ha, nice one son (chortle)."

But wait, this one might have happened, too. Police are investigating an incident last Sunday involving some Brisbane Lions and said wheelchair-bound man.

Mad Monday, eh, what a knee-slapper.

The concept is ritualised insanity, out of sync with the "professional" part of professional sport. Get a group of fit, young, over-trained men together and give them carte blanche to get as rat-faced as they like - what could possibly go wrong?

The NRL are slowly getting the picture. Integrity Unit chief operating officer Jim Doyle, formerly of the New Zealand Rugby League, issued an email to all 16 club CEOs this week, warning them of the NRL's code of conduct.

"As we are all no doubt aware, there have been various issues over the years with respect to incidents occurring out of 'Mad Monday' celebrations that have had a negative impact on our brand and reputation," he wrote. "Please ensure all players and staff are fully aware of the NRL's expectations and the absolute requirement to adhere to our code of conduct. Please also remind your players of the risks associated with social media.

"I look forward to your cooperation and support in making these events a fun, socially acceptable and responsible end of season celebration."

Socially acceptable, now there's a term open to interpretation.

There's an element of fun police at work here. Why shouldn't sports teams be allowed to have an end-of-year celebration, just like corporates invariably deal with Christmas party hangovers and students embark of end-of-exam homages to Bacchus. Surely there's nothing too offensive with a few drinks and the odd nude run to 'celebrate' a tryless season.

The problem is, all too often it goes from a harmless diversion to appearing in court seeking diversion.

Oh, let's see, we've got the Bulldogs verbally assaulting a TV reporter just last year. We've got Robert Lui assaulting his pregnant girlfriend. We got Joel Monaghan seeking simulated pleasure from a team-mate's, ahem, canine friend.

This isn't a league problem, or an Australian problem. For a while, English footballers were as famous for Christmas party hijinks as they were their on-field skills, to the point some of the more sensible clubs hired minders to accompany their stars and the truly sensible ones banned them altogether.

That was too late for the lovable Joey Barton. Dressed as Jimmy Savile, which in hindsight throws in another element of depravity, Barton attempted to burn holes in the costumes of his team-mates. When Jamie Tandy returned the favour, Barton stubbed his lit cigar into the player's eye.

A picture should be starting to form in your eyes - or in Tandy's case, his one good eye - about sports teams and organised booze-ups: they either end or end badly. They're your two options.

Not once has a good news story resulted from Mad Monday and here's a bold prediction - 2013's not going to be any different.

P.S. What are the chances the AFL, in one of those horribly contrived marketing concepts popularised by the NRL, will next year hold a Dwarf Round, to celebrate the contribution made by little people to The Great Game?

- Herald on Sunday

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