Animal rights groups have slammed footage of a trained bear delivering the match ball for the start of a football match in Russia - the hosts of the upcoming FIFA World Cup.
A video posted to Reddit’s r/soccer on Monday shows an actual bear — not someone in a realistic bear suit — walking out to the sidelines by a handler.
The bear, which was wearing a muzzle of sorts, then sat in front of the crowd and clapped, its enormous claws terrifyingly visible.
The bear then got onto its hind legs and essentially stood up to full height, holding a ball. One of the refs took it (presumably before the bear could flatten it with its giant paws), and then the bear started clapping again.
PETA Australia's Mimi Bekcechi condemned the stunt.
"In addition to being inhumane and utterly out of touch, using a bear as a captive servant to deliver a football is downright dangerous unless, as is often the case, the animal's teeth and claws have been cruelly removed," Ms Bekhechi told SBS News.
PETA said the incident highlights the known methods of exploitation of animals in Russia such as "beatings, electric shocks and food deprivation."
"The bear is the symbol of Russia, so we hope the country's people will show some compassion and national pride and stop abusing them. Common decency should compel the football league to pull this stunt, which flies in the face of the spirit of fair play," the statement added.
As a symbol, the bear has a complicated history in Russia. During the USSR days, the bear was often used as a symbol for the country, but by Westerners and not by Russia itself.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, there was some support in Parliament for removing the double-headed eagle on Russia’s coat of arms and replacing it with the bear, but that didn’t come to be.
The bear has made a bit of a comeback in Russia, though. It’s the symbol of the country’s ruling party, United Russia.
No one seems to know why a trained bear did tricks to kick off a Russian third league soccer match. But according to a translation of the video’s Youtube description, the bear’s name is Tim.
With FC Yahoo
The trained bear presenting the match ball before a Russian 3rd tier game between Mashuk and Angusht is ‘Tima the Bear’, who is something of a celebrity in Russia. Sad. What’s sadder is some Russian press find such things funny. pic.twitter.com/JF1ojfVEKT— Danny Armstrong (@DannyWArmstrong) April 16, 2018
This is pretty disturbing, to say the least https://t.co/1Nvi6QEdU4— JOE Football (@SportsJOE_FC) April 16, 2018