Towering over his trainer, a circus bear that was standing on his hind legs clutched a soccer ball in his large paws and then handed it to the referee before a European match over the weekend in Russia.
The bear, named Tim, was made to perform Saturday at a game between Russian teams Angusht and Mashuk-KMV in Pyatigorsk, according to BBC Sport.
A video, which shows the bear clapping and hopping up and down, has gained international media attention and prompted outcry from animal rights advocates.
Bears are not willing performers, but are trained from a young age through beatings, electric shocks, cigarette burns and the withholding of food, Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said in a statement Tuesday to The Washington Post.
“In addition to being inhumane and utterly out of touch, using a bear as a captive servant to perform at a soccer game is downright dangerous unless, as is often the case, the animal’s teeth and claws have been cruelly removed,” Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said in a statement Tuesday to The Washington Post.
“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,” Newkirk added. “Common decency should compel the soccer league to pull this stunt, which flies in the face of the spirit of fair play.”
In the more than seven-minute video of the match, the bear, which appeared to be wearing a muzzle, was seen walking alongside his trainer, then taking his spot for the controversial performance.
Angusht, a third-tier soccer team from Nazran, said in a social media post Sunday that the bear is set to perform this summer at the opening ceremony of the 2018 World Cup in Moscow, though FIFA officials denied that claim, according to the BBC.
The animal welfare charity Four Paws called it “abuse.”
“While some supposedly find this depressing scene ‘entertaining’ there is nothing at all lighthearted about this kind of abuse,” Brian da Cal, the organization’s U.K. director, told the BBC.
“Bears are wild animals and as such have very specific and complex needs. Being chained up, muzzled and forced to perform unnatural acts in front of large, rowdy crowds of people causes tremendous stress and can have an untold impact on these animals, both psychological and physical.”