Christ the Redeemer is the real star of the FIFA World Cup

Marcelo Dias

Though the world's best footballers are now gathered in Brazil ready for this year's FIFA World Cup, it seems the international press have eyes for one man only – Rio's iconic Christ the Redeemer statue.

The 125-foot tall statue has been at the centre of several Twitter storms in the lead up to the games, beginning with photographer Lee Thompson's series of stomach-lurching snaps as he posed for selfies at the statue's highest point last week.

With stunning views across Rio, the resulting photos are incredible – so much so that Thompson says he had a "religious experience".

"I was in total and utter awe as my eyes met with a vast panorama that quite literally took my breath away," he wrote on his blog.

"I've never been afraid of heights or tight spaces, but experiencing acrophobia, claustrophobia and profound awe at the same time was something truly remarkable."

Commuters in Melbourne were stunned to see this fellow above the skyline on Tuesday.

This light-hearted story was followed by several more with a less positive spin, however. People across Melborne were met with an unusual sight on Tuesday morning as a 46m tall inflatable replica of the statue – wearing the Australian football team's official kit emblazoned with the slogan #keepthefaith – floated serenely across the skies to promote gambling website Sportsbet.

Though many saw the funny side, some church groups deemed the stunt "offensive", while the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne lambasted it as "a blatant attempt to boost business".

The controversy then moved to Europe, as Italian officials found themselves in the firing line after releasing an advert in which Christ the Redeemer wears Italy's football kit.

The Catholic Church in Brazil, which owns the rights to the image of the statue, has deemed the commercial – which has since been withdrawn – as blasphemous, with the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro denouncing the exploitation of the statue as a "crime".

According to Italian newspaper II Fatto Quotidiano, the archdiocese is said to be "outraged" and the president of the Vatican's sports organisation CSI, Edio Costantini, has remarked, "We live in a world that has put God on the bench".

Costantini continued: "At a time when religious values seem to have become insignificant and everything is commercial it's right to feel indignation".

The UK's evangelical alliance is the latest to file a complaint after City AM published a gambling advert that features Christ the Redeemer with his arm around a bikini-clad model and holding a bottle of alcohol. A caption reads: "There's a more exciting side to Brazil".

The EA says this "virtual disfigurement of Brazil's national symbol" portrays Jesus "as a drunkard and as a womaniser", and should thus be banned, particularly out of respect to the significant evangelical and Catholic communities who live in the Latin-American nation.

Director of advocacy at the EA, Dr Dave Landrum, says in a statement: "This advertisement is an offensive abuse of an image of Christ that is known and loved around the world. It is offensive to Christianity, which with its emphasis on freedom and grace is often an easy target for this sort of thing.

"I can't imagine many other religions being treated with such a lack of respect."

Landrum contends that the distasteful image "disregards the feelings of those of faith" and calls for Christians to complain to the Advertising Standards Authority.

"Some things are, or should be, beyond exploitation for commercial purposes," he concludes.

It remains to be seen if any further controversy should befall Rio's most iconic figure, but it is thought likely as the cameras remain fixed on Brazil over the coming month. And with titles such as 'Most entertaining team' up for grabs, perhaps this year will see the first 'Most manipulated Art-Deco statue' award? If so, Christ the Redeemer would be a shoe-in.