What to do about those St Kilda footballers who last weekend revealed themselves not to have evolved since before most were born, since a time when Tony Shaw said he would use a racist epithet every week if he thought it would gain his team an edge, a time so long ago it can be found only by carbon-dating? Racism, sexism, dwarfism; it's all the same, isn't it, other people's sensitivities getting in the way of a bit of good sport? What to do now they've been sprung for not just deliberate, but calculating and malicious out-of-bounds?
What to do, for that matter, about the NRL and the code's stock-in-trade, its legal tender, its raison d'etre: cocaine? The chairman at one club, superstars at three others, all walking around with bigger bags than any crooked Sydney copper ever carried, and they say the AFL suffers from white-line fever! OK, so a couple of snivelling snifflers are Kiwis and can plead reduced moral culpability, but what about Damian Keogh? Maybe he thinks it will be like the old days: go to the court, have a good defence and win.
What indeed to do about Maria Sharapova? The French Open didn't give her a wildcard, this despite already losing Roger Federer and Serena Williams from their billing. What were they thinking? Have they no respect for what is sacred in sport: TV ratings, advertising revenue, endorsements, lunch? Admittedly, there was no squealing from Sharapova, who figured she might as well save her breath for what really matters, shrieking. But what to do about those who think that she, who was done for cheating, somehow has been cheated?
And what to do about Australian cricketers who threaten to strike, but only after their lucrative contracts to play T20 elsewhere in the world have been signed, sealed and delivered, which means that even though they have good points to make in their wrangle with Cricket Australia, they still come across as wanting to have their cake and eat it, too? What to think of their cause if they would rather lean on a picket fence somewhere else than stand on a picket line here?
What on earth to do about all these flowers of modern sporting civilisation? How to find a place where ethics, decency and perspective can be laughed out the door, just sign here? Where anything goes, just press this button? Can there really be such a blissful moral, social and cultural vacuum? Who would model this role? Well, there is such a place, right here under all our noses, hairless or not. It's called a Sportsbet ad.
Jim Pavlidis illustration.
The latest campaign is built around Ben Johnson, only with Lance Armstrong the most infamous cheat in sports history. Its theme is that Johnson knows all about how to achieve enhanced performance, geddit? The app he is promoting is "chock full of stuff ... to give you an unfair advantage", ho, ho. The ad is fleshed out by stereotypical images of an American cyclist, a Chinese swimmer and an Eastern bloc weightlifter, all on board with the scam, snort, snort.
As far as it goes, it is a clever ad. For a start, it has the outraged attention of killjoys and party poopers like me. As the storm broke this week, Sportsbet people were high-fiving one another from one side of social media to the other and back, wallowing in their notoriety. They've been clever, but so are embezzlers, plagiarists and propagandists. Clever does not always mean right.
This ad fails because it makes a joke of cheating, so making a joke of gambling, which is not a joke. It trivialises the worst of sport, so making light of all of it, in which case what's one more bet? And one more? We're not talking about deodorant here, or cars or groceries. We're talking a pleasurable pastime for some, yes, but also an industry whose side-effects are recognised as a serious societal problem, insidious enough for its ads to be quarantined away from live broadcasts now and facing further restrictions in the future, remembering how smoking lifestyle ads eventually disappeared altogether.
There is about this latest ad the sense of an industry getting in while it can. Expect next a celebrity line-up of footballers abusing, if not substances, each other, and sundry other cheats, spivs and money-grubbers, or since the whole point is to foment indignation and then sit back and clap while everyone talks about you, maybe simply a rerun of a leering Brendon Fevola and his grotesque pink dildo, Sportsbet-branded.