The Australian sports minister Greg Hunt has demanded from the local online bookmaker Sportsbet to pull a television advert featuring Ben Johnson, an Olympic drug cheat, to present the company’s product. The latest campaign of the gambling giant was launched over the weekend and is aimed at officially presenting its mobile phone application.
The TV advert has led to a large number of complaints, which have been received by the television networks Seven and Nine. The networks screened the ad during the weekend football telecasts.
What provoked such a great wave of criticism was the fact that the adverts of the sports betting company featured the disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson to promote its mobile application. Ben Johnson, now 56, won a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Seoul back in 1988 when he set a new world record. Unfortunately, he had a positive test to a forbidden steroid, so he was convicted of doping a few days later, and as a result was stripped of his 100 metres gold medal.
In the TV ad, Johnnos uses a number of doping-related puns in order to describe Sportsbet’s mobile phone application, saying that the app had been “tested positive” for speed and power.
Australia’s federal sports minister put the ad and Sportsbet’s approach to promote it under harsh criticism and required from the gambling giant to remove the ad, calling it “utterly inappropriate” to use a proven drug cheat for product advertising. According to minister Hunt, such an action disparages the achievements of all athletes who have been clean over their careers.
Sportsbet commented on the wave of criticism it has been facing since the official release of the TV ad, saying it had no intentions to pull the ad. The Australian betting giant said that it did not encourage the use of performance enhancing dugs, but it would not apologise for using a dose of wit in its advertising campaigns.
The company also insisted that the advertisement had got the approval of the Commercials Advice and further explained that the advert had been permitted to be aired along with the latter’s other products.
The federal executive government of Australia, the Turnbull Government, has recently started to impose tighter regulatory rules on web-based sports betting. The Government has also revealed its intentions to put certain limits on live broadcasts advertising. According to some reports roaming around the media, the Australian Communications and Media Authority could be reached by the independent senator Nick Xenophon, who insisted that both Sportsbet and Ben Johnson should make an appology for the TV advert.
Xenophon called the campaign wrong on many levels. The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (Asada) also filed an official complaint today. According to the Authority, the mobile phone application ad sent the completely wrong message, as if the drug use in sport was normal.