An animal welfare group has condemned a Russian football club for using a real bear as part of its pre-match entertainment.
The animal, known as Tim, was led into the stadium by his trainer for the game between Mashuk-KMV and Angusht.
He is a circus bear and had been trained to hand the ball to the referee.
FIFA denied claims by the away team that the act was to be used in the World Cup opening ceremony.
The bear is Russia’s national symbol and has just this week been incorporated into the country’s premier league logo.
Elisa Allen, a PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) director, said: “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.
“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.”
(c) Sky News 2018: Russian bear stunt condemned by animal welfare group PETA