Footage of a bear performing in front of fans before a Russian league match has been condemned as “shocking and inhumane” by animal welfare groups.
A YouTube video showed circus bear ‘Tim’ hand the ball to the referee before the third-tier game between Mashuk-KMV and Angusht in Pyatigorsk.
The bear is then seen clapping to fans while stood on his hind legs.
Fifa denied claims from the away side that the bear was to be used in the opening ceremony of the World Cup.
Russia hosts the 2018 World Cup from 14 June.
“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 welfare charity Peta, said.
“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 league to pull this stunt.”
The incident was cited as an example of animal exploitation that is still prevalent around the world.
“While some supposedly find this depressing scene ‘entertaining’ there is nothing at all light-hearted about this kind of abuse,” Brian da Cal, country director of Four Paws UK, added.
“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.”