Australian online betting operator SportsBet is catching heat for an advertisement that critics claim makes light of athletes’ use of performance enhancing drugs (PED).
Sportsbet debuted a new 90-second television commercial this weekend featuring former sprinter Ben Johnson, the Canadian who won gold in the 100m sprint at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, only to have his medal rescinded days later after drug tests revealed the presence of anabolic steroids in Johnson’s system.
The ad (viewable below) promotes Sportsbet’s new “juiced up” Android app, which the voiceover hails for “putting the ‘roid in Android,” while Ben himself hails the app for “testing positive for speed.”
The spot also features a blazingly fast American cyclist who may or may not be intended to remind you of drugs cheat Lance Armstrong, along with a surprisingly buff female swimmer (complete with visible Adam’s Apple) and a weightlifter who doesn’t want anything going up his back passage.
The advert has come under fire from Australia’s sports minister, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and the usual anti-gambling suspects, including Independent Senator Nick Xenophon. The gist of the complaints is that Sportsbet is treating the issue of PEDs in sport too irreverently, to which we ask: have you seen literally any other Sportsbet promos?
Sportsbet, which is part of the Paddy Power Betfair family, remains typically defiant regarding its typically cheeky promotional material, saying the Johnson advert had been approved and rated by Commercials Advice before its airing. And while Sportsbet insists that it doesn’t condone the use of PEDs, the company has no regrets about “injecting some humor into advertising” and has no intention of withdrawing the ad.
Sportsbet is far from alone in utilizing decades-old sports scandals to promote legal betting activity. Last year, the US division of UK bookmaker William Hill used former Major League Baseball great Pete Rose to promote their Nevada mobile betting app, despite Rose’s reputation for illegally betting on sports during his time as a player and manager.