LONDON - The striking image of Wayne Rooney painted red in the shape of the St George's cross has caused fury among MPs and religious leaders and drawn complaints to the advertising watchdog.
Created for Nike by Wieden & Kennedy London, the ad was unveiled earlier this week in-store, in press and on billboards, the most prominent being a 60ft execution alongside the M4 in West London.
Stephen Pound, Labour MP for Ealing North, has called the image "truly horrible".
"This is such a horrible image and is so horribly war-like that it can only be described as Nike being crass, offensive and insensitive as they try to hitch poor old Rooney to their commercial bandwagon.
"Wayne's a good Catholic boy and I think the obvious crucifixion nuance is one part of it, but the aggressive nature of the pose is something we could do without."
Eight complaints have been already lodged with the Advertising Standard Authority, with the majority saying the image was a reference to the Crucifixion.
Reverend Rod Thomas of Church of England evangelical group Reform said in the Daily Mail: "It's quite a disturbing image and because the paint is wet, it really looks like blood.
"It therefore brings to mind the Crucifixion to many people, and why Nike would want to do that, I haven't a clue, unless it is simply as a publicity stunt.
"The trivialisation of Christ's suffering is highly offensive to Christians and to God. This will cause real hurt to people.
"The other aspect of it is the aggression contained in it, bound up with the flag of St George, which you might see as a throwback to the Crusades, which is hardly going to go down well with Muslim countries."
Nike has a £5m contract with the 20-year-old striker, but said at the outset it is merely showing Rooney in his trademark goal-scoring "celebration" gesture and denied any comparison with Christ on the cross.
A spokesman for Nike said: "If we have offended anyone on those grounds, we would stress it was unintentional and we apologise.
"The red paint is not meant to be blood, it's just echoing the body paint which fans cover themselves in and the rest of Wayne's body is painted white. It's the flag of St George, and nothing else.
"We have had nothing but positive reaction to the poster and a lot of people have been asking if they can buy it."
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