Sportsbet’s new TV ad has caused a commotion, to put it mildly.

In fact, the advert, which stars disgraced Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson selling the online betting site’s new “juiced up” Android app (“a hit with performance enhancers over and over again”) has had politicians in an uproar this week.

Ben Johnson in controversial Sportsbet ad

Disgraced Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson selling Sportsbet’s “juiced up” new app, but several people were refusing to see the funny side this week. (Image: Sporstbet)

Why all the fuss? Well, you’re probably already getting the picture, but, lest we forget, Ben Johnson was stripped of his 100 metres gold medal, having tested positive for a banned performance-enhancing steroid at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

And yet here he is, selling an app that, according to the ad, “puts the ’roid in Android.”

“It tested positive for speed and power again and again,” explains Johnson.

Calls for a Ban

Federal sports minister Greg Hunt, who clearly had nothing better to do, called for the ad to be pulled on Monday.

“To use a known drug cheat such as Ben Johnson to advertise their product is utterly inappropriate,” fumed Hunt.

“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,” said the Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority said in an official statement. “This advertising campaign belittles the achievements of clean athletes and denigrates those who work to protect clean sport across the world.”

No Apology for Humour

Sportsbet was defiant, however. While it underlined that the company in no way endorses or condones the use of performance enhancing drugs, it made “no apologies for injecting some humour into advertising.”

“Sportsbet have no plans to pull the adverts from air. We’ve received overwhelmingly positive support from the public and they see it for what it is, a tongue-in-cheek joke,” said a spokesperson.

This comes at a time when gambling advertising has been constantly in the news due to the government’s decision to pull all such advertising from live TV sporting events. 

Under the new rules, betting ads will be banned before 8.30 pm and for five minutes before and after the start of any televised game.

In the face of tighter regulatory controls, it seems operators will have to get smarter with their advertising, which is why Sportsbet appears to have hit the nail on the head with this one.

And the media hysteria can’t be hurting the download figures for the app, which promises to give punters an “unfair” advantage over the rest of the field.