A controversial commercial by an Australian sports betting company featuring disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson has been slammed by the government for glorifying drug cheats.
The 90-second advert by gambling firm Sportsbet introduces Johnson, at a desk surrounded by a medal and a trophy, as the 1988 Olympic gold medallist while attempting to make light of the scene by superimposing “*For 48 hours” below the fallen star.
“When it comes to performance enhancement Ben really knows his stuff, which is why he is happy to endorse Sportsbet’s new juiced-up Android app,” the narrator says, claiming the firm’s phone betting application was putting “the roid into Android”.
Australian Sports Minister Greg Hunt blasted the ad as “sending a message that cheating’s okay and should be rewarded and laughed at and glorified”.
“They’re glorifying a drug cheat and they’re paying a known drug cheat a huge princely sum of money,” he told radio station 2GB late Monday. “So it’s an insult to clean athletes and, frankly, my view is they should pull the ad and they should pay the same amount to junior sport as they paid a known drug cheat.”
Johnson was stripped of his 100-metre gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics after testing positive to steroids.
The Canadian is joined in the advert by a range of drug-cheating stereotypes, including a cyclist in a yellow jacket, a muscular swimmer and a Hulk-like body builder.
The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority said it had registered an official complaint.
“This advert makes light of the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport and sends the completely wrong message that the use of drugs in sport is normal,” the doping watchdog said in a statement.
“This advertising campaign belittles the achievements of clean athletes and denigrates those who work to protect clean sport across the world.”
Sportsbet laughed off the controversy.
“The outrage is so severe you could roast a marshmallow on it,” the firm said on its website.
“There was just one problem with all of this public outrage though. The public didn’t seem to be outraged at all. In fact, people kinda liked it,” Sportsbet added, pointing to dozens of social media posts endorsing the commercial.