With the Australian Open starting in less than a week amidst tragic bushfires burning throughout the country, protesters, including Greta Thunberg, are taking one of the greatest tennis players of all time to task.
Roger Federer is being forced to square his support for climate action with his endorsement deal with Credit Suisse, a bank that is closely associated with fossil fuel extraction.
He’s having a tough time of it so far.
Let me be clear from the get-go.
Roger Federer is my favorite tennis player ever, with John McEnroe at #2.
I love his incredible all-around game, his class and decency, and his ability to stay near the top of the rankings and win major championships into his late 30s, which is ancient for world class tennis players.
Federer has also expressed support for climate action in the past. And he is headlining Aces for Brushfires, a star-studded fund-raising exhibition for Australia bushfire relief Tuesday night. The Australian Open, the season’s first major championship, is scheduled to start on Monday in Melbourne, which is suffering negative effects from the bushfires raging nearby.
That is why I am disappointed by his “yada yada yada” response to protests by Greta Thunberg and other climate activists against his endorsement deal with Credit Suisse, a bank that is which is closely linked to the fossil fuel industry.
Per a story in The Guardian on Sunday, “a dozen Swiss activists appeared in [a Lausanne, Switzerland] court on [January 7] after they had refused to pay fines incurred when they staged a publicity stunt last year, playing tennis in whites inside various branches of Credit Suisse to highlight Federer’s relationship with the bank.” The protestors held up banners that read “Credit Suisse is destroying the planet. Roger, do you support them?”
Meanwhile, Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist and Time Magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year, retweeted a post from the nonprofit 350.org Europe that claimed Credit Suisse had invested $57 billion in organizations searching for new fossil fuel deposits since 2016, something that is incompatible with climate action.
“@RogerFederer do you endorse this? #RogerWakeUpNow.” was the last line of the tweet. And another hashtag, #WakeUpRoger, began trending on Twitter last week.
The response from the man who owns 20 Grand Slam titles, the most in men’s singles tennis history¹, to Thunberg and the other protestors was a classic PR agency-parsed statement that used a lot of words to say…not much, really. He did not commit to making any changes to his relationship with Credit Suisse.
Here is Federer’s statement:
“I take the impacts and threat of climate change very seriously, particularly as my family and I arrive in Australia amidst devastation from the bushfires. As the father of four young children and a fervent supporter of universal education, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the youth climate movement, and I am grateful to young climate activists for pushing us all to examine our behaviors and act on innovative solutions. We owe it to them and ourselves to listen. I appreciate reminders of responsibility as a private individual, as an athlete and as an entrepreneur, and I’m committed to using this privileged position to dialogue on important issues with my sponsors.”
I don’t see anything of substance here, do you?
With Federer’s sterling image, his starring role in tonight’s bushfire relief exhibition and his previously stated concern about climate change, imagine instead if he had said something like this:
“I take the current and future threats of the climate crisis very seriously. We see the current threats all around us with the bushfires that are devastating Australia. As the father of four children, I am concerned about what climate change will do to their futures…and those of all of their generation. This is the time for bold action.
With that in mind, I am:
- Donating the $2 million I will receive from my partnership with Credit Suisse in 2020 to brushfire relief efforts.
- Donating the $2 million I received from the bank in 2019 to 350.org and other climate change-fighting nonprofits.
I have a great relationship with, and respect for Credit Suisse. I applaud Credit Suisse for its recent announcement that it will no longer invest in new coal-fired power plants. But this is just a first step and is not nearly enough.
I will not take any additional money from them until they publicly commit to a measurable plan, that shifts their massive investments in other fossil fuels to renewables, energy storage, energy efficiency and other clean technology companies.
I look forward to working with the great people at Credit Suisse to helping them make these changes and more so my kids and everybody’s kids have a healthier planet on which to live.”
Now, you may think that it’s easy for me to give away $4 million of Roger Federer’s money — OK, it was — but, trust me, he can afford it.
According to an August 2019 Tennis World magazine article, Federer’s earns $86 million in annual endorsement income, with $30 million alone coming from his 10-year apparel deal with Uniqlo. That is, per Forbes, the most of any athlete. His overall net worth is estimated at $450 million.
Also, you may think that Federer would never make such a statement because he has carefully crafted his image over almost two decades as a world figure. In contrast to Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, Federer is decidedly non-controversial.
The thing is, support for climate action, including massive shifts in investments from fossil fuels to clean energy sources, are increasingly possible all over the world.
And precisely because of Federer’s down-the-middle image, this type of statement — strong, yet respectful and upbeat — would likely gain massive and mostly positive attention.
Which is exactly what the world needs.
¹ Federer rival and current world #1 Rafa Nadal is one major championship beyond Federer with 19. Novak Djokovic is in third place with 16.