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Sportsbet in Ben Johnson Advertisement Controversy

by Glenn Baird - May 15, 2017

Nearly thirty years on from his infamously short-lived 100m triumph in Seoul, Ben Johnson finds himself embroiled in more controversy.

Despite spending years trying to find redemption amongst sports fans, Johnson appears to have irrevocably embraced his image as the poster-boy of performance enhancing drugs.

In an advert for Sportsbet, an Australian online sportsbook, Johnson is seen sitting in a changing room, dressed in a red tracksuit expounding the virtues of an app with a download speed that is “faster if you cut a few corners.”

The advert signs off with a controversial but undeniably catchy tagline, claiming that the new app “puts the roid in android.”

The message from Sportsbet is that if you place your bets with them you have an “unfair advantage” over other consumers because of the number of additional features and the overall performance of the app.

The ad has received widespread criticism, with politicians and The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority openly condemning Sportsbet for what they believe is irresponsible branding that fails to take into account the scale of the problem caused by the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport.

Sportsbet have shown little remorse over the storm wrought by their latest ad, believing that having been given the OK from Commercials Advice they have no need to remove it or make any apology for what they see has light-hearted humour.

What cannot be denied is the increase in attention that the advert will bring Sportsbet. As one of sport’s most notorious drugs cheats, Johnson is a huge draw for the company and the timing could not be better. The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) recently announced a proposal to scrap all world records set prior to 2005 under the premise that the methods used to detect drug use in the sport before this year lacked the efficiency needed to know for sure who was cheating and who was not. The proposal has sparked heated debate across the globe with high profile athletes, like Paula Radcliffe, condemning the IAAF, stating that the proposed change “damages reputation and dignity.”

Now that the ad has been aired it appears that Ben Johnson has laid to rest any hope that he might be remembered for anything else. And perhaps, more importantly, he has finally relented and assumed the caricature that Sportsbet so cleverly knew the world had already branded him with; a man defined by a lifetime of ridicule, regret and a moment that lasted a mere 9.79 seconds.