A Russian football club that had a bear perform before a match has been condemned by animal rights groups.
Footage showed the circus-trained creature clapping at spectators before the third-tier match between Mashuk-KMV and Angusht in the south western city of Pyatigorsk.
Named Tim (or Tima), the bear also held the ball before handing it over to the referee while standing on his hind legs.
The stadium’s announcer claimed the bear would take part in the World Cup’s opening ceremony in Moscow later this year. However, the organisers have since denied this.
The routine was branded “utterly devastating” and “inhumane” by animal rights charities.
“To see such a majestic animal reduced to a pitch-side crowd-pleasing clown is utterly devastating,” Wendy Higgins, a spokesperson for Humane Society International, told The Independent. “This bear belongs in the wild, not passed from pillar to post to be rented out as a mascot.
“We may never know how this poor animal came to be in captivity but it’s entirely reasonable to assume it was taken from its mother as a baby and forced into a life of punishment training to get it to perform. Sporting events are supposed to symbolise fair play but there is nothing fair or ethical about the treatment of this bear.”
Elisa Allen, the director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), added: “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.
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“Bears are not willing performers, so Russian circuses and other lousy acts take them from their mothers as babies and then ‘train’ them using beatings, electric shocks, cigarette burns, and food deprivation to make them perform belittling, stupid tricks like this, which make no sense to them.
“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.”
Rustam Dudov, the manager of the Mashuk club which arranged for the bear to perform, told Russia’s Sport Express newspaper that the bear was borrowed from a travelling circus which approached the club and suggested it perform before the game.
He added that the Russian Football Union had approved the performance.