SYDNEY - Angry Australian officials slammed horse-racing authorities yesterday for staging a "midget cup" featuring dwarfs dressed as jockeys being carried by runners down a race-course.
John Brumby, the Victoria state premier, said the race, featuring three dwarfs riding piggy-back down the course before celebrating with a trophy, was "tacky".
"What occurred may well be humorous to many people but I think the test is whether it's hurtful to people and what occurred is quite hurtful to a number of people," Brumby said. "So I think it's tacky."
Racing Victoria defended the stunt - staged in front of a large crowd during Sunday's Cranbourne Cup meeting and posted on the YouTube video website - as "harmless fun".
"The people involved in this event were consenting adults and took part of their own free will," said marketing manager Stuart Laing. "It was intended as harmless fun and was accepted by the crowd as that. We accept you can't please everyone and if anyone was offended, we apologise."
But Rob Hulls, the state racing minister, said the incident painted the sport in a negative light. "At a time when the racing industry is striving for that discretionary dollar to get people back to the track, I would not have thought this event does anything to promote (it) as being sophisticated, as being innovative and as being modern," he said.
"The industry ought to rethink these types of events because it doesn't send a message to people in Victoria, around Australia or around the world that the racing industry is an innovative industry."
The Short Statured People of Australia also hit out at the race, saying using dwarfs for laughs "just makes life harder for us".
"I know people who are actors and do plays and skits for a living but this is more like taking the mickey out of us," said Jonathan Tripp, chairperson of the group's Victoria branch.
"They could have used real jockeys but they used short-statured people to get more laughs."
However, one of the dwarfs involved, entertainer Jeremy Hallam, said the race was intended in good humour.
"I didn't know there was going to be quite as big an uproar. I think there was nothing wrong with it, it was all in good fun," he told local radio.
The row comes just days after actors wearing black face-paint performed a Jackson Five routine on national television, drawing an on-air scolding by the show's celebrity judge, US actor and singer Harry Connick Jr. - Sapa-AFP