Football may be the national religion. But Italy has found itself in a spot of bother after running an advert with Rio de Janeiro’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue dressed in an Italian football shirt.

The Catholic Church in Brazil, which owns the image rights for the statue, says the use of the statue’s image is blasphemous and exploiting it is a crime. It is threatening to sue for up to e7 million (R100m).

The two-minute clip features a Capoeira dancer and children, wearing the Italy kit, playing football in the street. It ends with an image of the statue wearing the blue shirt with “Italia” written on the back, alongside the slogan “Brazil awaits us”.

The Catholic church said it was “disrespectful” and compared it to “a Brazilian television channel making an advert in which mulatto girls engaged in indecent behaviour with the gladiators of the Colosseum”.

Italian state broadcaster Rai has been notified of the potential lawsuit and the advert has since been withdrawn.

Edio Costantini, the president of the Italian Sporting Centre, a Vatican sports organisation, told a newspaper: “We live in a world that has put God on the bench.”

British bookies Ladbrokes has produced an advert featuring the Christ Redeemer wearing a football jersey and yesterday a hot air balloon in the likeness of the statute, wearing the colours of Australia’s team, floated over the Melbourne skyline. – Daily Mail