Bear hands ball to referee to begin Russian soccer game

April 17 (UPI) — A trained bear helped start a soccer game in Russia when it was handed a ball to pass along to an official.

A video of the stunt Saturday at a third-tier Russian Professional Football League soccer match in Pyatigorsk shows the muzzled bear being led out in front of a crowd.

The bear stands on its hind legs and is handed a soccer ball by its handler. The animal then passes the ball to a waiting referee.

The bear was then escorted from the field by its handler.

The team that arranged the bear stunt claimed the animal was going to perform a similar service at the 2018 World Cup, but FIFA officials said no such plans have been made.

The stunt elicited sharp condemnation from animal welfare groups.

“In addition to being inhumane and utterly out of touch, using a bear as a captive servant to deliver a football is downright dangerous,” Elisa Allen, director of animal rights group PETA, told the BBC.

Brian da Cal, country director of charity Four Paws UK, said forcing bears to perform can be stressful for the animals.

“Bears are wild animals and as such have very specific and complex needs,” he said. “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.”