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Roger Federer, the philanthropist

Federer is not the first sports star to give his time and money to charity, but he is youngest to do so, writes Akshay Sawai .

india Updated: Dec 25, 2006 12:41 IST
Akshay Sawai
Akshay Sawai

Apart frombeing a designer clothes-loving tennis champion, Roger Federer is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and founder of the Roger Federer Foundation. For the underprivileged who benefit from his assistance, he is the angel who wears Prada.

Federer, 25, is not the first sports star to give his time and money to charity. But, as it struck me while watching him tour the tsunami-affected town of Cuddalore on Friday, he has got to be one of the youngest.

Usually, athletes “give back” when their best is behind them. Their prime years are devoted to striving for success. Down time is used to recuperate or for commercial opportunities.

A sportsman’s career span is short, the peak years more so. Most, therefore, are wary of taking on responsibilities that will drain them and provide little in return by way of athletic success or money. Not Federer.

He launched his philanthropic life the year he won his first Wimbledon — 2003. He was 22, an age when most athletes are mentally too young to even be approached by the thought of charity. Two years ago, in the aftermath of the tsunami, he and UNICEF got together for the first time. This April, he be- came their Goodwill Ambassador.

On Friday, some doubted what tangible work he, or other big names that turn up in town, do as Goodwill Ambas- sadors. Well, they raise money.

Journalists furious for not being allowed greater access to Federer accused UNICEF officers of siphoning off funds meant for rehabilitation. That may or may not be true. But we must give Federer credit for coming to Cuddalore on Christmas weekend when he could easily have been quaffing eggnog in a fancy winter resort. Federer is the best, most graceful, tennis player in the world.

Off court, he is mature beyond his 25 years and generous to causes. At the same time, he is not a monk. Maurice Lacroix and Rolex watches adorn his wrist.

He is vain about his appearance and en joys his female following. A more whole some sports star will be hard to find. It was, therefore, disappointing to hear a few peo ple harp on his not being recognised by some in Cuddalore.

In the narrow space of our celebrity cul ture, who will recognise anyone other than Shah Rukh Khan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sania Mirza?

Forget Federer, how many would recog nise, say, Warren Buffett, the finance cham pion who donated 85 per cent of his $44 bil lion wealth to the Bill and Melindawhose Gates foundation? Or Mohammed Yunus, concept of micro-credit gave many in Bangladesh hope and for which he and his Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace prize?

Instead of being cynical, we need to appreciate the efforts those like Federer make to enliven the world’s grim situation. In fact, we need to help too.

You and me cannot raise $50,000 in a week like Federer, but we can chip in. And most of us will. We are in a phase where Indians possess greater clout than ever and are passionate about bringing about a change in their country.

Those who get orgasms out of finding fault and being petty can continue enjoying them.

First Published: Dec 25, 2006 12:41 IST