Moral compass is irrelevant, argues Sportsbet as Ben Johnson ‘putting roid in Android’ ad is banned

Sportsbet’s ad featuring drug cheat runner Ben Johnson has been banned by the Advertising Standards Board after the watchdog was bombarded by complaints from the public and sporting authorities.

The move came despite Sportsbet arguing that applying a “moral compass” to the ad was “plainly irrelevant”.

Johnson: fronted the Sportsbet ad

The ad for Sportsbet’s new Android betting app featured the message “putting the ‘roid in Android” and centred on sprinter Ben Johnson who was stripped of his Olympic gold medal in 1988 for doping. He later admitted he used steroids to break the 100m world record in 1987.

The campaign was created by creative agency BMF.

Among those who complained to the ASB was ASADA – the Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority. And communications minister Mitch Fifield told Mumbrella last month that he thought the ad was “dumb” and “ill-advised”.

The complaint to the ASB said: “ASADA does not condone the message sent in this advertisement. 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 ad also features lookalikes of cyclist Lance Armstrong, stripped of seven Tour de France titles, the Russian weightlifting team who were barred from the 2016 Rio Olympics, and champion Chinese swimmer, Sung Yang, who was accused of cheating by Australian swimmer Mack Horton.

Sportsbet ad also featured Lance Armstrong lookalike

Other complaints included: “It teachers young people that cheating at sports is OK and taking drugs is OK as you can still earn money from advertising. It sends the wrong message to youth.”

And: “It is an appalling validation of drugs in sport, performance enhancing drugs and the link to gambling. Whoever approved this advertisement at the company level, and at the broadcasting level, need a good hard look at themselves. As a parent, as a coach, as a sportperson – I am APPALLED.”

The ASB considered four different versions of the ad covering free to air TV, pay TV, digital and social.

Defending the ad, Sportsbet claimed that most the complaints were “irrelevant”.

Appearing to confuse the word “tenure” with “tenet”, Sportsbet argued in its lengthy ASB submission: “The whole tenure of the Complaints appear to be based on the complainants’ own personal preferences, values or tastes and not on whether or not the Advertisements depict material contrary to Prevailing Community Standards on health and safety.”

Sportsbet went on: “The Advertisements are clearly and obviously a spoof and parody. They are in no way intended to be – nor could a viewer reasonably consider them to be – a portrayal of a realistic situation. ”

It added: “The Advertisements mock and deride athletes who have taken performance enhancing drugs. In no way, do the Advertisements glorify or promote the use of these substances.”

Sportsbet also argued that moral issues should not come into the ASB decision.

It wrote: “The fact that Sportsbet has paid Mr Ben Johnson a sum of money to appear in the Advertisements and promote Sportsbet’s Android App and that doesn’t ‘sit well’ with a pocket of the community based on their moral compass or otherwise is plainly irrelevant.”

However, the ASB banned all four versions of the ad. It ruled: “The Board considered that the advertisement overall suggests that the ‘roid’ is a positive element to the new App and encourages people to use the new App and to bet quickly. The Board considered that the impression of the advertisement makes light of drug use and that the use of drugs will enhance performance.

“The use of humour does not necessarily outweigh or justify a message that reasonable people in the community might take from an advertisement.

“In the Board’s view this depiction is done in a way that makes light of their use of a substance that is banned for use in sport. In the Board’s view the use of Ben Johnson in conjunction with a humorous message about drug use conveys a message that there is not a negative side to drug use and cheating and could be seen as a suggestion that there are benefits to gain from cheating or from behaviour that will enhance your performance.

“The Board also considered that, despite the parody, there is little consequence depicted for these actions as the athletes are portrayed in a positive way, rather than showing a negative side to the choices they made in their sporting careers.”

Sportsbet said that it pulled the ads on Friday.


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