Betting stunt: the 46-metre balloon over Melbourne.

Betting stunt: the 46-metre balloon over Melbourne. Photo: Supplied

What do you do when punters are showing little interest in slapping down money on the World Cup? You bring in the big gun, Jesus.

Sportsbet.com.au are flying a one-tonne hot air balloon replica over Melbourne of host nation Brazil’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue to publicise the biggest sporting event of the year.

The 46-metre high hot air balloon has a 41m wingspan and is believed to be one of the biggest ever seen in Melbourne. It’s cloaked in a gold and green jersey with the hashtag ‘Keep The Faith’ printed on it.

Punters have reportedly shunned betting on the World Cup, given the relative youth and inexperience of the Socceroos and its tough group featuring Spain, Netherlands and Chile.

The stunt has attracted plenty of attention online, with opinions divided between amused and sinful. On Twitter, one user quipped “He has amazing healing powers!” while another labelled it “revolting and offensive”.

The Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, was unimpressed with the stunt.

"The Sportsbet campaign is simply a blatant attempt to boost business. The fact that it has sought to exploit Christian symbols shows both the power of those symbols and the company’s desperation to be relevant," Dr Freier said in a statement.

"But the campaign is hypocritical because the Jesus who overturned the money-changers’ tables in the Jerusalem Temple would not encourage betting. And 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."

Sportsbet.com.au spokesman Matthew Campbell said the stunt was to get people behind the Socceroos.

“[The statue’s] an icon of Brazil and all we’re doing is bringing it to Australia.”

Campbell said the company hadn’t received any complaints from any religious groups directly and added “we certainly don’t believe we’re being insensitive to anyone’s religious beliefs”.

Depending on Melbourne’s weather, the balloon will remain for a few days and then tour around other parts of Australia.

It’s not the first time the betting company has used controversy to advertise its business. During the 2013 Lions Tour, the company had a field covering 15,030 square metres painted with a winking kangaroo “hugging” a stunned-looking lion, with the slogan “Rooting for the Wallabies”.

The image sparked furore on talkback radio, with 3AW’s Neil Mitchell labelling it offensive.