Why tennis superstar Roger Federer is copping heat over climate change
Roger Federer and Greta Thunberg. Photos / Getty Images With a single retweet, environmental activist Greta Thunberg dragged tennis superstar Roger Federer into unfamiliar territory. One of the most loved and revered sportsmen in the world has arrived in Melbourne to chase a record-equalling seventh Australian Open crown, saying not having any setbacks in the off-season was "crucial" to ensuring a promising first grand slam campaign of 2020. That may be true on the court but off it, Federer has been presented an unexpected problem. In the same week the International Olympic Committee announced athletes would face disciplinary action for taking political stands in Tokyo this year, the 38-year-old was forced to wade into the climate change storm. A social media post by 350.org Europe, supported by Thunberg, took aim at one of Federer's sponsors, Credit Suisse, asking the 20-time grand slam champion if he endorsed the bank's alleged financing of companies investing in fossil fuels. The tweet also used the hashtag #RogerWakeUpNow, which trended across social channels in the following days. 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 pic.twitter.com/ED1fIvb4Cr Thunberg is the world's most recognisable face in the fight to take action on climate change. She's been involved in spats with world leaders like US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron but why has Federer, become a target? Federer has been a brand ambassador for Credit Suisse since 2009 and has previously said he is proud the bank "takes its corporate responsibility seriously". Every year Credit Suisse contributes $1.4 million to the Roger Federer Foundation, which supports educational projects in Africa and Switzerland but the relationship between the financial instituion and one of the most famous athletes on the planet has come under the microscope. A dozen activists recently went on trial for storming a Credit Suisse office in Lausanne, Switzerland, and playing tennis inside part of a protest against the Swiss bank's investments in fossil fuels. The defendants are standing trial after refusing to pay fines handed down after the incursion in November 2018. Inside, wearing tennis attire, the activists hit tennis balls an allusion to Federer and urged him to break his connection with the institution. They held up banners reading: "Credit Suisse is destroying the planet. Roger, do you support them?" The Lausanne Action Climate group says Credit Suisse is one of the top banks worldwide to invest in fossil fuels, making available billions of dollars to nearly four dozen companies that are "extreme" users of dirty fossil fuels and multiplying 16-fold its financing for coal from 2016 to 2017. Credit Suisse filed charges against the climate activists, telling Reuters while "combatting global warming is important", it would not tolerate unlawful attacks on its branches. Last year reports emerged accusing banks including Credit Suisse of pouring trillions of dollars into companies investing in fossil fuels, even after the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 with the goal of strengthening the global response to the threat posed by climate change. Research commissioned by Greenpeace Switzerland in 2018 alleged that between 2015-2017, Credit Suisse and fellow Swiss bank UBS had financed the emission of nearly 193 million tonnes of greenhouse gases to the tune of more than $17 billion. Finance specialist at Greenpeace Switzerland, Katya Nikitenko, said: "This report shows once again that Credit Suisse and UBS are fuelling climate change. They should be playing an active and leading role in the transition to a low-carbon economy." NGOs BankTrack, Rainforest Action Network, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Sierra Club and Honour the Earth joined forces last year to analyse the contributions made by the world's major banks to companies investing in fossil fuels. Their research alleged trillions of dollars had been spent financing the expanded use of fossil fuels since 2015, with Credit Suisse and UBS responsible for $120 billion of that investment between 2016-2018. In September 2019, thousands of demonstrators came together in the Swiss capital of Bern for a protest to call for an end to fossil fuel use in Switzerland and for Swiss banks to stop financing companies that extract oil, gas and coal. As environmental responsibilities and other areas of social life become more intertwined, sport is far from just a bystander. You only need to look at AFL club Richmond signing on to The United Nations' Sports for Climate Action Initiative launched in 2018 to know some sporting organisations are prepared to take a stand for what they think is right. In a statement on the weekend, Federer said he had a "great deal of respect and admiration" for the youth climate movement inspired by Thunberg, but stopped short of delcaring anything around his commercial partnership with Credit Suisse would change. "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," Federer said. "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. "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." Writing for The Telegraph , tennis correspondent Simon Briggs said "Federer's response to Thunberg and company contained plenty of words without making the slightest commitment to changing his relationship with Credit Suisse". In a news report, The Guardian called Federer's response "cautiously worded". In Switzerland, the response was mixed. As reported by The Times , right-leaning Swiss newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung praised the tennis star for striking "precisely the right tone, even though the climate activists will smother it with ever more demands and pressure". Meanwhile, Climate Strike Switzerland wants Federer to not just talk about taking climate change seriously, but actually walk the walk. "We hope he will call on Credit Suisse to get rid of all of its investments in fossil fuels with immediate effect and to withdraw its lawsuit against brave climate activists," it said. Credit Suisse maintains it takes environmental impacts into account when conducting business by "developing sustainable products and services and addressing sustainability issues in our risk management". In December Credit Suisse said it will stop financing the development of new coal-fired power plants and is seeking to align its loan portfolios with objectives laid out in the Paris Agreement on climate change. In a section on its website under "corporate responsibility", the bank says its recognises its "share of responsibilities in combating climate change by supporting the transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient global economy". In a statement on climate change, the bank says it is "committed to playing our part in addressing this global challenge". Last year Credit Suisse defended its conduct, saying: "In recent years, the bank has continuously reviewed and in many cases tightened its policies on sensitive industries. Since 2016, for example, Credit Suisse has been restricting the financing of new mine projects for thermal coal and new coal-fired power plants." If things went differently, Payne Haas could have been wearing blue, green, red and white.