Melbourne — A TV advert for a gambling company that features disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson making light of doping has sparked outrage in Australia, with politicians and sports officials demanding it be pulled from the air.
The Sportsbet advert has Canadian Johnson, who was stripped of his 100m gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games after testing positive for a banned steroid, promoting a “juiced-up” mobile phone app.
“It tested positive for speed and power again and again,” says Johnson in the advert, which includes other doping-related puns and muscular athletes touting the app.
Federal sports minister Greg Hunt criticised Sportsbet and said the company should withdraw the advert.
“To use a known drug cheat such as Ben Johnson to advertise their product is utterly inappropriate,” local media quoted Hunt as saying on Monday.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon called upon the national media watchdog, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, to take action.
“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,” Xenophon said.
Australia’s antidoping watchdog said the advert sent “completely the wrong message”.
“This advertising campaign belittles the achievements of clean athletes and denigrates those who work to protect clean sport across the world,” the Australian Sports Antidoping Authority said in a statement.
Outspoken Australian Olympic 400m freestyle champion Mack Horton, who sparked controversy at the Rio Olympics by calling a Chinese rival a “drug cheat”, was also disapproving.
Sportsbet said it would not remove the advert.
“Sportsbet does not condone the use of performance enhancing drugs … [but] we make no apologies for injecting some humour into advertising,” a Sportsbet spokesperson told News Ltd media.
The proliferation of gambling advertising at sport venues and on TV has raised alarm bells in Australia, where nearly A$23bn (R226.6bn) was lost in all forms of legal wagering in the 2014-15 financial year, up nearly 8% on the previous year, according to government statistics.
Earlier in May, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed that the government would ban gambling adverts from live sporting events before 8.30pm and for five minutes before and after the start of play.