In Europe Controversy Over Sport of Dwarf-Tossing

British Clubgoers Vie to Cast A 4-Foot-4 Man Farthest

EDENBRIDGE, England – When Vera Squarcialupi first heard that some people in Britain were practicing a sport called dwarf-throwing she thought it must be a joke.  “I just rejected it,” says the former member of the European Parliament.

Once she was convinced it was true, Ms. Squarcialupi, an Italian Communist, introduced a proposal that condemns competitions where ‘particularly robust men’ prove their strength by “throwing a person of restricted growth, i.e. a dwarf, as far as possible.”  And she isn’t alone in objecting: Members of Britain’s Parliament and groups for the handicapped have also protested.

Dwarf throwing contests are said to have originated in Australia as part of a competition between nightclub bouncers.   In Europe, dwarf-throwing has taken place only in England and involves just one willing dwarf.  But even if the practice isn’t widespread, it is creating considerable controversy.  “It’s appalling that such a practice would be considered entertainment in this day and age,” says John Hannam, a British M.P. Ms. Squarcialupi adds, “This is a new form of exploitation, using a human being as an object.”

Dwarf-rights groups say the sport is dangerous and demeaning. “If this were black-people-throwing or paraplegic-throwing, people would be horrified,” says Pam Rutt, the acting chairman of the Association for Research into Restricted Growth and herself a dwarf.  “It’s nothing less than freak-show entertainment.”


But to Danny Bamford, the promoter who organized dwarf-throwing contests in England, it is just good fun.  “People say it’s degrading,” says Mr. Bamford, a wisecracking former welterweight boxer with bleached-blond shoulder-length hair.  “But it allows the little fellow to show he can go out and be someone.”

The little fellow is Lenny the Giant, a 4-foot-4-inch, 98-pound dwarf. (Lenny, after checking with Mr. Bamford, declines to give his family name. “Just call him Lenny Bamford,” says his manager.)  Lenny and Mr. Bamford are part of a four-man comedy act called the Oddballs.

As Mr. Bamford attached leather belts around Lenny’s hips and shoulders the manager keeps up a lively patter.

“Lenny, have you been hurt?”


“Is it fun?”



Mr. Bamford peers out through the smoke toward the audience. “There’s been some controversy about dwarf-throwing,” he shouts at the crowd.  “But twist Lenny’s ear and he’ll tell you it’s been a lot of fun and he’s met a lot of people.  All right who wants to throw the dwarf?”

Each contestant picks Lenny up by his harness and-while the laughing, hard-drinking crowd screams, “one, two, THREE” – swings him underhanded onto a pile of mattresses.  Lenny lies motionless while the toss is measured, then bounces up and acknowledges the cheers and laughter with a grin, ready for the next throw.

The Edenbridge contest is won by Jim Clark, a postal clerk from nearby Bexley Heath, with a toss that is well shy of the English record of 12 feet, 5 inches.  “A lot if people say it’s easy,” Mr. Bamford says by way of explanation from the mediocre performance, “but when you’ve got (98 pounds) if dead weight…”

Ms. Rutt says that this is dangerous, regardless of how far Lenny is thrown.  Dwarfism, a hormonal imbalance restricting growth can be caused by a number of medical conditions, also involves a spinal disorder.  Dwarfs like Lenny risk serious injury from jarring or twisting, she says, adding “He could end up in a wheelchair.”

But Lenny doesn’t seem worried.  Talking after the show in a makeshift dressing room crowded with drunken, middle-aged women seeking autographs, he says his training in karate and judo has prepared him for the sport.

Lenny seems out of place in this seedy milieu.  Well-dressed and eager to please, he times and again offers to get drinks for a visitor and graciously gives a seat to one of the teetering autograph seekers.  The 29-year-old emigrated with his family from India 20 years ago, and still lives with his mother.  Before joining the Oddballs, he worked in a factory making circuit boards for personal computers.

He professes to enjoy being thrown and says those who criticize the sport do so out of ignorance.  “I don’t know how they can say they think it’s wrong when they haven’t even seen the show.” he says.  Mr. Bamford pipes in, “It was Lenny’s idea, and as soon as he says he doesn’t want to do it anymore, we won’t do it.”

Mr. Clark, who had the winning toss at Edenbridge, wonders what all the fuss is about.  “It’s just a bit of fun that’s not detrimental to anyone,” he says.  “The little chap is a professional entertainer and if he’s happy with the arrangement and is getting paid for it, then it’s okay with me.  He’s not drugged or anything.”  (Lenny makes an average of about $72 a night for the Oddballs act.)

Ms. Rutt sees it differently.  Even if Lenny is happy with his job, dwarf-tossing “perpetuates the image of dwarfs as non-people, as freaks, as something weird,” she says.  Besides, “If people get the idea that dwarf-tossing is all the rage and just for fun,: she says, “thugs and drunks on the street at night will say, “Hey, let’s go throw some dwarfs.”

Like Lenny, many dwarfs today still make their living in the entertainment business as circus performers, comedians or actors.  But while dwarf entertainers capitalize on their unusual condition, critics point out that they at least use skills-something not necessary for being a human projectile.

Notwithstanding the criticism, the practice could be spreading.  A bar in Chicago plans to start holding contests this month.  And if Mr. Bamford has his way, dwarf-tossing will spread even further.  He wants to stage a world championship next year, after holding national contests in Finland, Italy, Germany and the U.S.  He also plans to take four dwarfs and the English winner down under to challenge the “Australian champion.”

His plans may come to naught, however.  For one thing, the manager of the Australian bar where dwarf-tossing is said to have begun says the bar won’t hold any more contests, partly because the novelty has worn off.  For another, the outcry might be great enough to get the practice stopped in Britain.

Lenny, however, says he hopes to continue being thrown “if the protesters don’t stop it.  It’s fun.  And” – he casts a questioning glance at Mr. Bamford as if seeking approval – “it’s your job.”

-Paul Hemp

Staff Reporter of The WALL STREET JOURNAL


Filed Under: Fractured Opinion


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