A Nike poster depicting the England football star Wayne Rooney as a “Messiah” in a crucifixion pose, on a giant billboard overlooking the M4, has been slammed by Christian religious groups.
The poster has been labelled as distasteful, while playing on the clichÃ© that football is the “new religion”.
Rev Doc David Hilborn, head of theology at Christian group the Evangelical Alliance, pours scorn on Nike’s suggestion that the controversial image is “not intended to have religious connotations”.
He says of the image: “It is clearly a crucifixion image. Were it not, why would the cross be ‘daubed’ in blood? It is playing Rooney as the Messiah of the England team.”
He continues: “There is also a telling contrast between Christians’ belief that the price that Jesus paid for mankind was the price of his life, against the prices paid to footballers in wages every week. I find it somewhat distasteful. The price of Jesus’ life versus commercialism. It plays unashamedly on the clichÃ© that football is the ‘new religion’.”
He says he “did a double take” after driving past the billboard – the UK’s second largest – this week. Print and outdoor ads showing Rooney with his fists clenched and arms out, daubed in the red and white of the St George’s Flag, broke ahead of Tuesday’s England vs Sweden World Cup group match.
However, a Nike spokeswoman denies that there are any religious connotations. She says: “It is simply a celebration of Wayne Rooney and the fact that he is back. It is nothing to do with religious imagery. That pose is the way that he always celebrates his goals, with a St George’s Flag painted on. It reiterates the passion that people have for the game and his passion as a player.”