#KEEPTHE FAITH Giant Jesus for The Socceroos Sparks Fury All Over Melbourne

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By Athena Yenko | June 11, 2014 2:59 PM EST

The giant balloon, fashioned in the image of Brazil's famous Jesus towering over Rio de Janeiro, flying over Melbourne with the logo of Sportsbet and slogan #KEEPTHE FAITH, sparked fury all over Melbourne.

The balloon in the image of Jesus is wearing Socceroos jersey as Sportsbet argued that the advert sends out a message of support for the Australian team.

"Let's be honest - the Socceroos need divine intervention to progress past their three group games so the message we're aiming to get across is that for all Aussies to keep the faith in the Socceroos," Sportsbet PR Manager Shaun Anderson told Herald Sun.

However, for Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier the stunt was a blatant disrespect of Christian symbols motivated by the company's materialism.

 "The campaign is hypocritical because the Jesus who overturned the money-changers' tables in the Jerusalem temple would not encourage betting. It is incoherent, in claiming the Socceroos are so inadequate that they need a miracle but patrons should nevertheless bet on them, while suggesting that the company is the author of miracles," Freier told Fairfax Media.

For Dan Flynn, Australian Christian Lobby director, the advert was ill-fated.

"It's really like the use of a sporting hero or a major iconic person to promote gambling and obviously their intention is to increase gambling revenue. In a sense Jesus is being co-opted in that and I think the concerns that we would have is that people seeing this flying over the CBD, children who have a fascination with Jesus, a fascination of balloons, are sort of inducted into the culture of gambling. Jesus was very much for the poor and we know the effect of gambling on the poor, they take the biggest brunt of that," Flynn said on 3AW.

Not only did the stunt earn fury from church people but officials and intellectuals condemn it as well.

"They ought to sink it. It should leave the skies," Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said.

"It's stupid, short-sighted, it's going to offend a lot of people. Whoever is the PR agency advising them, dumb, very dumb, get another one. It's very offensive, particularly if you're religious," Michael Carr-Gregg said.

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