Saturday, 20 May 2017

Gambling on a Drug Cheat

Australian betting agency Sportsbet has been in the news recently after airing an advertisement featuring Ben Johnson, 1988 Seoul Olympic 100 metre champion, for all of 48 hours.

Johnson won the race of the century at the Seoul Games in World Record Time only to test positive and be stripped of the medal and obviously, the World Record.

Johnson immediately denied using banned substances but subsequently confessed, including his World Record Time set the previous year (1987) at the World Championships was also achieved with the assistance of performance enhancing drugs.

He cheated, no question and he admitted it and to more than perhaps he needed to. The majority of athletes caught for taking drugs continue to deny the undeniable.

The advertisement appeared a few days ago and my first reaction was it was someone pretending to be Johnson. On subsequent viewings, I realised it was actually him.

Obviously Sportsbet meant it to be amusing. Johnson was pretty much poking fun at himself. I was a little uncomfortable with it but landed on a belief that he has done the crime and served his time and is free to accept whatever legal work is offered him.

There are many athletes suspended for cheating and then allowed back to compete at the highest level, even winning Olympic Gold Medals. Alexander Vinokourov is one example that immediately comes to mind

One of our Rugby League programs has as one of its ‘stars” a former player caught for using an (illegal) recreational drug. He served his suspension and returned successfully to competition. A co-star on the same program has admitted to drug use during his playing days however was never caught. Both regularly appear in advertisements.

Tyler Hamilton tested positive and was allowed back to competition. He subsequently tested positive for a second time. However, he has written a highly successful book and his story is made more interesting (and increased sales) due in a large part to his indiscretions. He has since been held up as a highly credible witness in the case against former team mate, and fellow doper, Lance Armstrong.

The advertisement featuring Ben Johnson has been pulled from the air following a large number of viewer complaints (150 allegedly) *.

However, the publicity the campaign attracted and the subsequent withdrawal has ensured it all became a main stream news story, even achieving exposure via international news sites.

I am guessing Sportstbet are laughing all the way to the bank. Being a quite simple production, it would not have cost a great deal. They reportedly paid Johnson $200,000 for his appearance. Given all the free exposure and the many hits the add has achieved on YouTube , they must be thrilled with the return on investment.

I doubt current users of their service will look elsewhere and I am sure many new users have been attracted to a betting agency they may have been only mildly aware of.

Sportsbet should thank the Politicians, Journalists, Broadcasters and Opinion Setters for making such a fuss – perhaps a fuss about nothing.

I should note that Ben Johnson returned to competition after serving his ban and again tested positive for banned substances, just as Tyler Hamilton did.

*as reported on Melbourne radio station 3AW on 19 May 2017. Other reports refer to a substantial number of complaints without specifying a number

No comments: