Chelsea football star Christian Pulisic has deleted a “cruel” video from his Instagram page showing him performing football tricks above an endangered species of fish.
The disturbing clip showed the 22-year-old winger, who plays for the US national team, sitting on the edge of a boat doing kick-ups above a goliath grouper fish, which was hooked on a line below him as the stunt was being filmed.
Someone behind the camera says “he’s trying to teach the goliath how to play soccer right now”, before Pulisic loses his balance and falls on top of the fish.
The grouper, appearing panicked, attempts to swim away as Pulisic and other people onboard scream and laugh.
After scrambling back on to the boat with some help, Pulisic laughs with relief.
It is not clear when the incident took place, but the footballer came under fire from animal rights and environmental groups after posting the clip earlier this month.
His Instagram account has around 4.1 million followers and he tagged an account linked to BlacktipH – a fishing collective based in Florida.
Pulisic deleted the video after widespread complaints and negative media coverage around the world, but it has since been reposted by environmental charity Save the Reef to raise awareness about the cruelty of animal prank videos, warning they are on the rise.
The organisation wrote: “In this video USA/Chelsea soccer star Christian Pulisic mocks an endangered and protected goliath grouper while showing off for social media.
“Cruel and unnecessary animal prank videos like this MUST STOP as no living creature, let alone any endangered species, should be used for entertainment and we all work together to spread awareness about this issue right now!”
The charity explained that Atlantic Goliath groupers, which grow up to more than 8ft long and can weigh up to 800lbs, are recognised as a vulnerable species and are decreasing in population, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Commenting on the post, another charity Karmagawa said: “Very sad, we should celebrate beautiful creatures like this, not make sick videos like this.”
Marine biologist Paul Nicklen wrote: “This is so far off side it is hard to even believe. Such a disconnect. These people should end up in jail.”
Another shocked Instagram user said: “He took the video down AT LAST. I was shocked by the video, by the fact that he was proud about it, and then by the fact that even after all the negative comments he kept it on!”
Others defended Pulisic and the group, with one person writing: “This is not a harmful or dangerous video. The guys catching the fish know what they are doing and know how to safely deal with the fish. There’s a difference between treating animals badly and just having a bit of fun for a video.”
Someone else added: “I think if he never fell into the water people would not have found a issue with this. This was a ACCIDENT and was not meant as a animal prank.”
Blue Planet Society, which also posted and commented on the video because the goliath grouper is classified as threatened by the IUCN Red List, said in a statement: “In our opinion Christian Pulisic’s stunt was in clear breach of these rules.
“Animal abuse to attract attention for social media videos appears to be on the increase. We believe strongly that people should be called out for it, especially when they are as influential as Mr Pulisic.”
Sky News has reached out to the footballer’s agent for comment.
Pulisic, who is the youngest player to ever captain the US national team in the modern era, moved to Chelsea from Borussia Dortmund in 2019 in a £57.6m transfer, making him the most expensive North American player of all time.
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