Dan Murphy: A Bear of a Scandal

Are bears more important than people? PETA seems to think so. ( Farm Journal Media )

Bears are rarely the focus of animal activist campaigns, given that PETA and its allies are preoccupied with fighting for the rights of lab rats, claiming that milk causes autism and dressing in white sheets and hoods while calling the Westminster Kennel Club the KKK — the Klux Kanine Klan (?) — which is about as lame and misguided an attempt at parody as it gets.

But in between its demonization of dog shows, PETA couldn’t resist raising an outcry over another incident involving an animal earlier this year. In this case it was a trained bear that was brought onto a soccer field to “hand” the ball to the referee at the start of a game in Pyatigorsk, a city in southern Russia about 100 miles from the border of Georgia.

According to the website www.VeggieAthletic.com (who knew?) a circus bear was walked onto the field by its trainer, before clapping its paws and holding a soccer ball.

PETA was all over that like a pit bull on a poodle.

“In addition to being inhumane and utterly out of touch, using a bear as a captive servant to deliver a football is downright dangerous,” said Elisa Allen, the London-based director of PETA-UK. “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.”

I understand PETA’s knee-jerk reaction to seeing any animal interacting with people in any way, shape or form, but I don’t quite get the “captive servant” part. Is it also improper for young kids to be enlisted to bring the game ball out onto the field? Are they being treated as captives, too?

Identifying the Real Danger
Anyway, here’s a deeper and far more pertinent issue with which PETA never seems to engage: How about the human rights abuses that go on daily in Russia, the suppression of religious beliefs, the censorship of online communications and, of course, the atrocities committed by Russian-backed rebels in Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine.

Perhaps that’s too overwhelming for PETA to comment on, so how about problems directly related to athletics in Russia, seeing as how VeggieAthletic.com has such deep concerns about the state of soccer in that nation.

How about the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia, despite a legacy not only of human rights abuses, but the state-sponsored doping scandal that even the utterly corrupt International Olympic Committee was forced to acknowledge has existed for years.

Shouldn’t that issue be at least as important to veggie athletes as convincing the public that a dog show is no different from the Ku Klux Klan?

To award the Olympics or the World Cup to a country that has distanced itself as far from democracy as Russia is to reward the bad behavior of its leadership, which is diametrically opposed to the Olympic ideal, and I quote: “To contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination, in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

Fair play. Those two words that don’t translate in Russian.

Worse, these grand events allow the host country to capitalize on the ceremonies to burnish its image. The UK publication The Spectator summarized how that works in an article titled, “For Putin, the World Cup is not about football but global respect.”

“Authoritarian regimes love grand international sporting events,” the article began. “There’s something about the mass regimentation, the set-piece spectacle, the old-fashioned idea of nation states competing for glory that appeals to leaders who wish to show off the greatness of their country to the world.”

As examples, the publication cited the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, which Hitler used to showcase Nazi superiority — until Jesse Owens stuck a fork in that fantasy; the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, which gave the Soviets temporary domination of the world stage — thanks, Jimmy Carter; and the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi — the aftermath of which revealed the massive state-sponsored doping regimen that forced the IOC to ban Russia from the Winter Games in PyeongChang earlier this year.

Given that scandal, it’s fair to ask: How did Russia land the 2018 World Cup, anyway? Along with the fact that FIFA, the governing body for soccer, is even more corrupt and compromised that the IOC, the reality is that Russia was given the Cup in 2010, (allegedly) before anyone knew about the doping program.

So, a message to PETA: Instead of pretending to worry about the danger of some circus bear waddling onto on a soccer field, how about condemning the far more dangerous threat?

The Russian Bear itself.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.