Greta Thunberg’s volley puts Roger Federer on backfoot

A tweet from a climate activist group, a retweet from Greta Thunberg, and a trending hashtag was enough to send the 20-time Grand Slam champion on the backfoot.

Roger Federer arrived in Melbourne with a record-trying seventh Australian Open title in mind. But the 20-time Grand Slam champion wouldn’t have expected a barrage of volleys from climate activists.

A tweet from a climate activist group, a retweet from Greta Thunberg, and a trending hashtag was enough to send the 20-time Grand Slam champion on the backfoot.

On Wednesday, Europe targetted Swiss bank Credit Suisse, a sponsor of Federer, which has been accused of investing more than $57 billion in companies linked to fossil fuel deposits.

“Since 2016 @CreditSuisse has provided $57 BILLION to companies looking for new fossil fuel deposits – something that is utterly incompatible with #ClimateAction @RogerFederer do you endorse this? #RogerWakeUpNow” read the tweet.

Swedish activist Thunberg’s was one of more than 900 accounts to retweet the post, resulting in #RogerWakeUpNow to trend. On Sunday, Federer issued a cautiously-worded statement.

How is Federer involved?

A brand ambassador for Credit Suisse since 2009, Federer has publicly stated that he is proud of the bank which “takes its corporate responsibility seriously”.

Credit Suisse meanwhile backs the Roger Federer Foundation in the form of an annual $1.4 million, which supports the player’s educational projects in Africa and Switzerland.

This is not the first instance of Federer feeling the heat thanks to his association with the bank. In 2015, two members of a rainforest community in Sumatra wrote to Federer to ask for his help in persuading Credit Suisse to stop facilitatitng logging of peat forests on Pulau Padang, an island off Sumatra’s coast.

Federer wrote back an assurance letter: “I take your concerns seriously. In response to your letter and as ambassador for Credit Suisse, I would like to emphasize that I will advocate for and have complete trust that they analyse such issues thoroughly, evaluate all options and that their decisions are well thought out.”

The latest row has prompted several more open letters to the player, asking him to make his houses and cars “more climate-friendly, more sustainable.”

What are the allegations against Credit Suisse?

A joint research — by NGOs BankTrack, Rainforest Action Network, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Sierra Club and Honour the Earth — last year listed several major banks, including Credit Suisse, of investing trillions of dollars into companies looking to tap into fossil fuel deposits. The accusations against Credit Suisse go as far back as 2016, a year after the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. In November 2018, a dozen Swiss activists stormed the Credit Suisse office in Lausanne, playing tennis inside the premises; a stunt intended to underline Federer’s sponsorship deal with the bank.

The activists, mostly students, refused to pay the fine of $22,000 and appeared in court on Tuesday, holding up banners reading: “Credit Suisse is destroying the planet. Roger, do you support them?”

What was Federer’s response?

Federer released a statement in response, saying: “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 behaviours and act on innovative solutions.”

He added: “We owe it to them and ourselves to listen. I appreciate reminders of my 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.”

The statement however has done little to dissuade the issue. In The Telegraph, tennis correspondent Simon Briggs wrote: “Federer’s response to Thunberg and company contained plenty of words without making the slightest commitment to changing his relationship with Credit Suisse”.

Federer on damage control?

Federer followed the statement by announcing his plans to feature in a charity match later this week, and the funds raised will be donated to the Australia bushfires appeal. “If anyone can chip in, that’s great because it’s nice to show solidarity and help in a situation, which has become quite incredible in this country,” the 38-year-old said, joining other tennis players in pledging funds.

But campaigners have pressed Federer to go further, urging him to become a “climate champion” in an online petition that had garnered more than 7,900 signatures on Monday. “When you speak, people usually listen,” read the petition posted on the website Campax, accusing Credit Suisse of funding “climate chaos” around the world.

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