The Catholic Archdiocese of Brazil is threatening to sue an Italian broadcasting company over a television commercial showing Rio de Janeiro's famous Christ the Redeemer Statue clad in an Italian soccer jersey.
The advertisement, which aired on the Italian broadcasting station Rai ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, shows children playing soccer in the streets, sporting the jerseys of Italy's national team, "Azzurri." The advertisement then ends with a digitally altered image of the Christ the Redeemer statue wearing a number 10 "Italia" jersey, with the caption "Brazil Awaits Us."
Rodrigo Grazioli, a lawyer for Brazil's Catholic Church, told the O Globo newspaper that the church is threatening to sue the Italian broadcasting company for $5.4 million, vowing to give the payment to charity if the Catholic church wins the lawsuit.
"The Archdiocese is deeply offended," Grazioli said. "It's as if Brazilian TV were to make a commercial in which mulatto girls engaged in lewd behavior with the gladiators of the Colosseum."
The Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, which has image rights over the statue, added that "exploiting the image of Christ the Redeemer is a crime."
Edio Costantini, president of the Italian Sporting Center, the Vatican's sporting organization, told the Italian newspaper Il Fatto that he understands why Brazil's Catholic Church would be upset by the commercial.
"At a time when religious values seem to have become insignificant and everything is commercial, it's right to feel indignation, even with an act of force," Constantini said.
The broadcasting network Rai has since pulled its controversial commercial following backlash from Brazil's Catholic Church.
In a similar story, the Australian betting firm SportsBet.com.au is receiving criticism from the Anglican Archdiocese of Melbourne for floating a 150-foot high inflatable Christ the Redeemer statue over Australia's capital city. The inflatable statue shows a replica of the Christ the Redeemer statue wearing a jersey of Australia's national team, the Socceroos, with text that reads "#KeepTheFaith."
"The Sportsbet campaign is simply a blatant attempt to boost business. The fact that it has sought to exploit Christian symbols shows both the power of those symbols and the company's desperation to be relevant," the Anglican archbishop of Melbourne, Dr. Philip Freier, told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Matthew Campbell, a spokesman for Sportsbet.com.au, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the purpose of the campaign is not to offend people, but to generate support for Australia's national soccer team."[The statue's] an icon of Brazil and all we're doing is bringing it to Australia."
Both the Italian and Australian advertisements are promoting the upcoming FIFA World Cup, a month-long international soccer tournament being held throughout Brazil beginning this week.