Australian online sports betting operator Sportsbet has been told to stop running its controversial television commercial featuring disgraced Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson.
On Monday, Australia’s Advertising Standards Bureau issued a ruling regarding the Sportsbet advert, which featured Johnson promoting the betting operator’s “juiced up” Android app, playing on Johnson’s use of anabolic steroids that led to him being stripped of his 1988 Olympic gold medal in the 100m sprint event.
While Sportsbet had already pulled the ad from live sports broadcasts following complaints by anti-doping agencies and media-hungry politicians, the Board ordered the company to pull the ad from all television and social media channels based on its view that the ad was “contrary to prevailing community standards on health and safety.”
Sportsbet had attempted to argue that the ad’s multiple references to athletes deriving benefits from performance enhancing drugs (PED) were “clearly comical in nature,” but the Board nonetheless determined that the ad had breached section 2.6 of the advertising Code.
However, the Board dismissed complaints that claimed the ad was condoning or encouraging the use of PEDs. The Board also rejected complaints that said the ad was primarily directed at children, saying kids “would be unlikely to understand the double entendre references to drug use.”
Sportsbet has been told it can re-run the ad subject to certain modifications. It’s unclear whether the Board’s ruling will extend to a second drug-themed commercial Sportsbet recently released (viewable below), which features Eastern Bloc weightlifter ‘Vladimir Cheatalotakov,’ who also appeared in the original Johnson ad.
Sportsbet is an offshoot of UK-listed gambling operator Paddy Power Betfair, and its cheeky approach to marketing mirrors that of the infamous Paddy Power campaigns that have earned the company no shortage of tut-tutting from UK media scolds, along with untold millions worth of free advertising.
The Board says it has upheld roughly 30% of complaints against betting company adverts filed following the July 2016 imposition of the new AANA Wagering Advertising & Marketing Communications Code.