Every year during carnival, giant puppets bob through Recife, Brazil, modeled after football icons from Pelé and Maradona to Brazilian commentator Galvão Bueno and FIFA president Sepp Blatter. After the parade, all are sent to Recife’s Embaixada de Bonecos Gigantes, or Giant Puppets Embassy.
George Weah, the only African footballer to have received a FIFA Ballon d’Or, is a Liberian hero. In 2005, he ran for president, but lost to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, whose 2007 “Monrovian Beautification Special Presidential Project” tore down the only statue of Weah in the country.
In 1998, residents of Rosario, Argentina, built a church to honor Argentinean midfielder Diego Maradona. Its 120,000 members now celebrate “Christmas” on Maradona’s birthday and “Easter” on the anniversary of his 1986 World Cup handball goal against England, widely known as “the hand of God.”
In Bangkok’s Pariwas temple, you’ll find statues of Buddha, minor deities and a knee-high, gold-leafed sculpture of British midfielder David Beckham. “We have to open our minds,” monk Chan Theerapunyo told the BBC in 2000. “Share the feelings of millions of people who admire Beckham.”
French striker Thierry Henry has celebrated 402 goals in his career. After scoring in a 2013 MLS match, Henry leaned philosophically against the goalpost, hand on hip and leg crossed. It immediately went viral, with fans Photoshopping #henrying onto images from E.T. to Iwo Jima.