Kevin Anderson, World’s #6 Tennis Player, on Plastic Ocean Waste Fight

Kevin Anderson, the sixth-ranked men’s tennis player in the world, recently showed himself to be passionate about the plastic ocean waste issue in Jon Wertheim’s SI.com tennis mailbag column. GreenSportsBlog reached out to the Delray Beach, Florida-based South African to dig a bit deeper into his environmentalism and to get his take on climate change. Before heading out to Southern California for the Indian Wells tournament that is now underway, Anderson took a few minutes to answer our questions.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Kevin, when did you become an environmentalist and what got you into it?

Kevin Anderson: Well, Lew, a part of me has always been very mindful about how my life impacts the environment. Last year I watched a documentary called “A Plastic Ocean” and it really opened my eyes.

 

Anderson_Kevin

Kevin Anderson, fifth ranked men’s tennis player in the world and eco-athlete (Photo credit: Kevin Anderson)

 

GSB: That is a must-watch film from 2016. Journalist Craig Leeson joined forces with retired free diver¹ Tanya Streeter and an international team of scientists and researchers to document the the scale of the plastic ocean waste pollution problems, and offered potential real world solutions.

Kevin: It definitely encouraged me to see what I could improve upon in my daily life and — as a tennis player — what athletes, tournaments and the organizations we are associated with could do better to make a change.

 

Plastic Ocean

 

GSB: What environmental initiatives have you led or joined?

Kevin: I’m a huge supporter of the “Skip the Straw” campaign in Delray Beach, Florida. Hopefully that new rule will be approved, which means restaurants in the city will only give patrons plastic straws when requested. Living in close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean makes this initiative very important for our city and I hope more residents will continue to adopt practices using less plastic in their lives.

GSB: Good news: According to Boca News Now, the Delray Beach City Commission just passed the ordinance that will ban plastic straws. It will take effect January 1, 2020. How have your colleagues/competitors reacted to your leadership on environmental issues? Who have joined you?

Kevin: Many of my fellow players see the importance of reducing the use of plastics. Dominic Thiem of Austria is one who I’ve discussed this; he has an organization he supports…

GSB: …Thiem, the eighth ranked player in the world, is involved with 4Ocean, a nonprofit founded by two surfers that removes plastics from the oceans and other waterways. It sustains itself by selling bracelets made from that waste. 4Ocean reports that, in just two years, they and their teams of fishermen and others, have removed over 4 million pounds of trash from the oceans and coastlines.

Kevin: I know Dominic is very passionate about it. Overall, the players have been very supportive in helping me encourage the ATP Tour and tournaments to create more plastic-reducing initiatives and make it possible for us players to lead more environmentally-friendly lives.

 

Dominic Thiem

Dominic Thiem, the world’s eighth ranked men’s tennis player, sports four bracelets made from ocean waste by 4Oceans (Photo credit: Polygram)

 

GSB: Widening the lens beyond plastic ocean waste, what are your thoughts on climate change, its human causality, and how elite athletes can engage on the issue? I ask this question mindful of the severe water crisis in Cape Town in your home country of South Africa.

Kevin: I’ve definitely become more in tune with the climate change topic and it’s something I’m continually educating myself on. I think education is one of the most important parts when it comes to environmental issues, so I look forward to learning more.

GSB: Do you discuss climate change with your competitors/colleagues in the locker room, on the tour? If so, what have those conversations been like?

Kevin: Currently our most engaged topic relating to the environment is reducing our use of single-use plastics and encouraging recycling.

GSB: Athletes have been, with some notable exceptions, relatively quiet on climate change, although that is starting to change. Why do you think that is? What might change that?

Kevin: I know in tennis, we are all extremely focused on our training, fitness, matches, travel arrangements, etc. This takes up a large portion of our time because tennis is 24/7. But I do think in moments of downtime, we can focus on learning more. Again, education is key, and then perhaps athletes will feel more comfortable coming forward with their opinions.

 

GSB’s Take: Tennis is, per data compiled by World Atlas in 2018, the fourth most popular sport in the world with an estimated 1 billion fans. That makes the sixth ranked Anderson — and eighth-ranked Thiem — among the world’s most prominent eco-athletes. His responses here and in the Wertheim mailbag show him to be committed and knowledgable about the plastic ocean waste issue. Anderson had an in-depth conversation about his environmentalism with Wertheim on his “Beyond the Baseline” podcast, produced by SI.com and Tennis Channel. Click here to give a listen — the environment is discussed for an impressive 18 minutes, starting at the six minute mark.

Anderson’s comment about climate change — that tennis players, need more education on the subject but have precious little time to absorb it given the 24-7 nature of their work — tells me there needs to be a time-sensitive yet substantive climate education program for athletes. It could be modeled on what’s being done with skiers and snowboarders with Protect Our Winters.

Watch this space. 

 

¹ Free diving is a form of underwater diving that relies on breath-holding until resurfacing rather than the use of breathing apparatus such as scuba gear.

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Kevin Anderson, 5th Ranked Tennis Player and Eco-Athlete; Seattle Sounders Call Climate Change a “Crisis”; Climate Denying Ski Federation President Remains at Helm Despite Pressure to Resign

In a TGIF GSB News & Notes, we share two positive news stories and one naggingly troubling if still hopeful note.

On the positive side, Kevin Anderson, the world’s fifth ranked men’s tennis player, took on the plastic waste issue in Jon Wertheim’s SI.com much-read mailbag column. And the Seattle Sounders used the term “climate crisis” (Italics my emphasis) when they announced their commitment to going carbon neutral in the season that kicks off on March 2. I’ve never seen a team put the words “climate” and “crisis” together before.

On the flip side, despite many calls for his resignation, Gian-Franco Kasper remains the President of the International Ski Federation (FIS) almost three weeks after he outed himself as a climate change denier. But an effort to generate public pressure to force his resignation, led by Protect Our Winters, shows no signs of slowing down.

 

KEVIN ANDERSON, WORLD’S 5TH RANKED TENNIS PLAYER, SERVES UP PLASTIC OCEAN WASTE TO SI.COM READERS

South Africa’s Kevin Anderson instantly became one of the world’s most well-known eco-athletes on Wednesday when he took on the plastic ocean waste issue — and tennis’ contribution to it — in Jon Wertheim’s popular SI.com mailbag column.

I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, who is Kevin Anderson? And how popular is tennis, really?”

 

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson (Photo credit: Tony O’Brien/Reuters)

 

The hard-serving, 6′ 8″ Anderson is currently the fifth ranked men’s player in the world¹, having reached the finals of two grand slam tournaments since 2017. You might remember this incredible left-handed shot (Anderson is a righty) after having tumbled to the grass late in his marathon, 6 hour-plus 2018 Wimbledon semifinal vs. John Isner that propelled him to the final.

 

 

As to tennis’ popularity, a 2018 WorldAtlas.com study reports that the sport has 1 billion fans globally, enough to make it the fourth most popular sport on the planet, trailing only soccer (#1 at 4 billion fans), cricket (2.5 billion), and field hockey (2 billion). To my knowledge, the only active eco-athlete who be more well known than Anderson is Mesut Özil, the German soccer star who currently plays for Arsenal.

Back to Wertheim’s mailbag.

The first question came from a reader in Toronto who asked, “When is tennis going to stop its environmentally unfriendly use of plastic?”

Instead of answering it himself, Wertheim gave Anderson, “tennis’ green czar” (who knew??), the court.

An excepted version of Anderson’s reply reads this way:

That your question was submitted to Jon Wertheim’s mailbag makes me very pleased to know that tennis fans are also taking the plastics issue seriously.

Reducing plastic pollution — and particularly keeping plastic waste out of the oceans — is one of my biggest passions. In fact, in December I hosted a charity event at home in Florida with a portion of the proceeds benefitting Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Alliance. Once your eyes are opened to the plastic pollution problem, it’s hard not to care about the consequences. I hope that tennis players can be leaders in this space to raise awareness and help make the public more mindful of reducing single-use plastics when possible.

As a member of the ATP Player Council, I’ve been sharing my passion for this issue and last November, the ATP developed measures to reduce its negative impact on the environment at the Nitto ATP Finals in London. For the first time ever, players were given reusable bottles for on-court use, staff were given reusable bottles and encouraged to refill them at water stations, and fans were given reusable cups when they purchased drinks at The O2 (Arena). There are many more things that can be done in the future, but I believe this was a great first step in the right direction.

I’m hopeful we can continue to make other changes, such as do away with plastic racquet bags after re-stringing (which I always politely decline or make sure to recycle), put recycling bins at all tournaments for fans to dispose of their rubbish properly (and on the practice courts for players), and most importantly – provide education. If we can get more and more tournaments, players and fans to recognize the issue we have on our hands, and just how dire of a situation it is, we can make more change. 

 

GSB’s Take: So glad to hear Kevin Anderson is leading the anti-plastic ocean waste movement on the ATP Tour. Hopefully he is recruiting others, including his women’s tennis counterparts, to join his effort. And if his interest in plastic waste becomes an on-ramp to a broader commitment to the climate change fight, all the better.

 

SEATTLE SOUNDERS, MLS’ FIRST CARBON NEUTRAL CLUB, USES “CLIMATE CRISIS” TERM

The Seattle Sounders committed to going carbon neutral starting with the 2019 season — FC Cincinnati visits CenturyLink Field on March 2 to kick off the new campaign — marking them as the first professional soccer team in North America to do so. In a press release announcing the move, the club pledged that their “operations will make no net contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading cause of the climate crisis.”

Wait a second.

Did you notice anything special in that press release quote? Because I sure did.

A North American pro sports team, used the term “climate crisis.

At first glance, the Sounders’ use of climate crisis should not raise eyebrows. After all, a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study released in October said that humanity has but 12 years to cut carbon pollution by 40 percent if we are to avoid catastrophic consequences.

But widen the lens a bit and one sees that most pro teams, including those who have done great green work for years, do not even speak of climate change. At all. Benign terms like “sustainability” and “environmentally responsible” are used much more frequently.

It says here that the Sounders use of climate crisis is at least as big a deal as the team going carbon neutral.

And that’s saying something because the club’s carbon neutral commitment is certainly important and substantive.

One reason is that the Sounders included fan travel to and from games — which represent 28 percent of total emissions — in its calculations. Some teams and leagues that have claimed carbon neutrality have not done so.

 

Fan travel accounted for 28 percent of the Sounders’ emissions in 2018, trailing only team travel (33 percent) and CenturyLink Field operations (29 percent)

 

Team management partnered with Seattle-based Sustainable Business Consulting to calculate its greenhouse gas emissions and develop plans to reduce its impacts where possible. For emissions unable to be eliminated – such as team travel for matches, scouting and other business – the Sounders are offsetting their emissions through the Evergreen Carbon Capture (ECC) program of Forterra, a regional nonprofit. Using the club’s contribution to ECC, Forterra and its partner DIRT Corps are joining with the team and fans to plant hundreds of trees in a part of the region that needs added tree cover. This not only reduces CO₂, but enhances air and water quality.

“We’re incredibly excited to announce that our club is officially carbon neutral,” said Sounders Owner Adrian Hanauer. “The Sounders have always been committed to investing in our community, and that includes recognizing the immense responsibility we have as environmental stewards.”

And climate crisis fighters.

 

Adrian Hanauer

Adrian Hanauer, owner of the Seattle Sounders (Photo credit: Seattle Sounders FC)

 

GSB’s Take: This is a win-win-win Green-Sports story if I ever saw one: Win #1: The Sounders go carbon neutral. Win #2: The club includes fan travel in their emissions calculations. Win #3: Rightfully calling climate change a CRISIS is a big step forward. Kudos to the Sounders for doing so. Will this give other pro teams across all sports the confidence to use the words “climate” and “change” together? Watch this space. Note that I’m starting slowly here and not asking teams to say climate “crisis”. Yet. If you want to let the Sounders know that you appreciate their bold green-sports steps, click here.

 

CLIMATE DENIER GIAN-FRANCO KASPER REMAINS IN POWER AS HEAD OF INTERNATIONAL SKI FEDERATION; 

We close the week with an update on the Gian-Franco Kasper story.

The President of the International Ski Federation (FIS) denied climate change in a February 4 interview, saying, “There is no proof for it. We have snow, in part even a lot of it. I was in Pyeongchang for the Olympiad. We had minus 35 degrees C. Everybody who came to me shivering I welcomed with: welcome to global warming.”

 

Gian Franco-Kasper

Gian-Franco Kasper, President of FIS (Photo credit: Mark Runnacles, Getty Images)

 

Protect Our Winters, the nonprofit made up of elite winter sports athletes who advocate on behalf of systemic political solutions to climate change, quickly wrote an open letter calling for Kasper to resign and encouraged its followers to do the same.

As of February 19, over 8,300 letters had arrived in FIS’ in box.

But that’s not all.

  • Jessie Diggins, who won Olympic gold at Pyeonchang 2018 in cross country skiing, and other elite winter sports athletes like Jamie Anderson, Danny Davis, and Maddie Phaneuf, made strong statements condemning Kasper’s remarks.
  • Companies from throughout the snow sports world — from Aspen Skiing Company to Burton, from Patagonia to Clif, and more — pushed the word out
  • The coverage of POW’s open letter generated more than 200 million media impressions worldwide: The New York Times, ESPN and The Daily Mail, among many others, got into the act.

Now, as of February 21, Kasper remains in office. But for how long will that be the case?

 

GSB’s Take: The POW letter campaign is ongoing. If you believe Kasper should go and would like to participate, click here.

 

 

¹ Anderson currently sits below #1 Novak Djokovic, #2 Rafael Nadal, #3 Alexander Zverev, and #4 Juan Martin del Potro in the ATP rankings. He is ahead of #6 Kei Nishikori and #7 Roger Federer.

 

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