Is if there hasn’t been enough controversy in Australia over gambling advertisements this year, there’s a new reason for athletes and anti-gambling politicians to voice their outrage these days. It stems from an ad aired by Australia mobile betting firm Sportsbet that some are calling highly “inappropriate”.
The ad in question features Ben Johnson, a former Olympic gold medalist. When I say former, I don’t just mean he won it years ago. I mean he was stripped of his medal for violating the rules of the Olympic Committee.
It happened in 1988 at the Seoul Games, when Johnson won gold in the 100 metre dash. It was a joyous occasion for the young athlete, and all onlookers from his home country of Canada. But the cheering soon faltered when Johnson tested positive for using illegal performance enhancing steroids. His medal was stripped – his country disgraced – his career ruined.
Ben Johnson, 1988 Seoul Games 100 Metre
The marketing team at Sportsbet didn’t seem to see it as a disgrace, though. They felt the situation – being nearly three decades old now – was worthy of “humour”. Thus Ben Johnson was hired by the Australia mobile betting firm to star in an advertisement, making fun of his illegal drug use to promote the gambling service.
The ad makes numerous references to illegal doping, calling it a “juiced-up” mobile betting app. Johnson’s part in the ad includes the line:
“It tested positive for speed and power again and again!”
Fiery Response to Australia Mobile Betting Ad
It didn’t take long for the complaints to come pouring in from anti-gambling politicians like Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who immediately called for action by national media watchdogs at Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
“It is just wrong on so many levels — glorifying a drug cheat, tying it in with gambling and promoting it to kids in a lighthearted way,” argued the South Australian Senator.
The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA ) also responded, admonishing Sportsbet for delivering “completely the wrong message” to punters.
“This advertising campaign belittles the achievements of clean athletes and denigrates those who work to protect clean sport across the world,” read a statement from the ASADA.
The Australia mobile betting ad drew the ire of Federal Sports Minister Greg Hunt as well.
“To use a known drug cheat such as Ben Johnson to advertise their product is utterly inappropriate,” Hunt told local media on Monday, calling for the company to pull the ad.
Swimmer Mack Horton, who brought Olympic gold to Australia in the 400 metre freestyle in 2016, Tweeted his reaction to the mobile betting ad, saying, “This is naht cool”.
Horton’s outspoken nature is well known, having incited his own controversy last year when he verbally accused a Chinese opponent of being a “drug cheat”.
Sportsbet Defends “Humour” in Mobile Betting Ad
In response to the outrage, Sportsbet released a statement defending their marketing tactics. The company clearly has no intention of pulling the advertisement – at least, not voluntary.
“Sportsbet does not condone the use of performance enhancing drugs,” a spokesman told News LTD, but “we make no apologies for injecting some humour into advertising.”