By Brendan O'Brien

(Reuters) - A four-decade tradition of people mud-wrestling pigs at a Wisconsin church's summer fundraiser has been halted after 81,000 people signed an online petition pressed by animal rights activists who raised concerns about animal abuse.

The "Original Pig Rassle" will be replaced this August after 44 years by a human mud foosball tournament, St. Patrick's Parish in Stephensville, Wisconsin, said in a statement.

"We are simply doing something different this year ... we are simply moving in a different direction," Deacon Ken Bilgrien said Wednesday.

Bilgrien declined to discuss the controversy that has engulfed the fundraiser for the church, which is about 35 miles west of Green Bay in central Wisconsin.

In 2014, teams wrestled 37 pigs that were slaughtered afterward, said the Global Conservation Group, a Wisconsin animal advocacy organization that launched the online petition.

Some pigs were "punched in the face, kicked, body-slammed, jumped on, yelled at and thrown into a bucket," the group said.

The group, which accused the church of breaking state law prohibiting humans from fighting animals, posted "VICTORY" on its website after hearing about the church's decision.

(Reporting By Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Sandra Maler)