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"There has been a lot of improvements, but I'm looking forward to seeing more" - Dominic Thiem on tennis' efforts to fight climate change

Dominic Thiem at the 2021 Mutua Madrid Open - Day Six
Dominic Thiem at the 2021 Mutua Madrid Open - Day Six
Rohan Pai
CONTRIBUTOR

While Dominic Thiem has been off the court lately due to a wrist injury, he has appeared in multiple interviews and campaigns to talk about the importance of environmental conservation. Thiem was also one of many guests on a recent BBC Sounds audio show called 'Sport and Climate Change' and hosted by Steve Crossman, where he reiterated the need to fight global warming.

The 2020 US Open champion was first asked how he got interested in the environment, in response to which he gave credit to his mother.

"She was a vegetarian long before I was born," Thiem said. "She educated me in that way, and obviously when I was a teenager I didn’t listen to that so much, but it was in my head definitely. Four to five years ago, the passion for it was deep inside me, and now it’s fully out."

Dominic Thiem has, for a long time, been outspoken about the need for tournament organizers to take steps to protect the environment. These issues have recently started to get more attention than ever, as extreme weather conditions have been occurring more frequently.

During the audio show, the 28-year-old gave credit to tournament organizers with respect to their recent eco-friendly initiatives. But at the same time, he strongly suggested there is a long way to go for tennis as a sport to effect real, impactful change.

"I think tennis can improve a lot, but our sport is picking up, luckily," Thiem said. "I saw some changes from the plastic side, all the stringing bags, the plastic bottles, I think that's a low-hanging fruit that’s very easy to change."

Dominic Thiem also mentioned how the sport has started taking steps in the right direction only after the global outcry from environmental groups about the need for immediate action. However, he did give a shout out to a couple of tournaments for the efforts they have made in reducing the usage of single-use plastic.

"The sport is taking [initiative], but that’s because there is a general movement," Thiem said. "We all know that climate change is very urgent; every single one of us, every company and every sport has to go in that direction."
"There has been a lot of improvements, but I'm looking forward to see more," he added. "For example, in Mallorca this year there were only glass bottles, and reusable bottles at the Masters in Paris Bercy."

Dominic Thiem also looked back at the 2020 Australian Open, which was held when there were active bushfires in New South Wales and Victoria. The Austrian recalled the difficult conditions at the time, saying that it was "shocking" to experience them first-hand.

"2020 Australian Open was brutal, especially with the bushfires, when the qualifiers took place and we were practicing for it," Thiem said. "It was over the edge, but that’s where you see how close the problems are or how real climate change is. If I'm sitting in Austria, and hearing about bushfires in Australia, obviously I'm concerned because I don’t know how bad it really is. But then it was shocking to see how real it was."

The 28-year-old went on to reveal he often has discussions with other players on tour about the changes that can be made. He also mentioned his eco-friendly collaborations with apparel manufacturer Adidas and environmental organization Parley.

"I do [have a lot of conversations with my fellow professionals]," Dominic Thiem said. "The players are super into the topic, almost all of them. We take it to the player meetings, and from time to time we have conversations on how we can improve it and discuss it with ATP."
"I play in a kit made of recycled materials since the last three years," he added. "Australian Open 2019 was the first time I played in the Adidas x Parley kit made out of 100% ocean plastic. Shoes, shirt, pants, socks, everything. It's important to recycle these materials, to take plastic out of the ocean and make something positive out of it."

Speaking about his pointed focus towards the ocean even though he’s from a landlocked country, Dominic Thiem emphasized how crucial water conservation is in the fight against climate change.

"In the last 3 - 4 years I read a lot about it [the ocean], watched many documentaries, and had some conversations with ocean experts," Thiem said. "Ocean is one of the big keys in climate change, and climate change is all of us now, so it doesn’t matter if I'm from a country where there is no ocean or living straight on the coastline. It’s important for all of us to have a healthy ocean, and that’s why I’m so passionate about it."

Laura Robson agrees with Dominic Thiem, says climate change has been affecting the health of tennis players too

Laura Robson at the 2019 Fed Cup Europe and Africa Zone Group I practice session - Day Four
Laura Robson at the 2019 Fed Cup Europe and Africa Zone Group I practice session - Day Four

Laura Robson was also part of the conversation along with Dominic Thiem. The Brit expressed agreement with Thiem, and stressed how tennis in particular has a lot of room for improvement given the inherent issues with the sport.

"As Dominic [Thiem] said, there’s a real effort in place now [from tournament organizers] at least, and I hope we get better and better because it's a very environmentally unfriendly sport with the amount of travel, and number of people you travel with," Robson said. "I think the more tournaments that lean into it, the better it's going to be as a spectator as well when you go into these events."

Robson also talked about the vast diversity in the tennis landscape, and how that makes it difficult to implement uniform changes across the board.

"I think it’s especially difficult with tennis because you’re playing in so many different countries and different cultures, so not everyone has the same views on climate change," Robson said. "For example, you see a lot of progression in Australia, and at Wimbledon there’s a real push for sustainability. But other tournaments don’t see it as much of a priority."

Laura Robson went on to point out that the environmental conditions have been deteriorating over the years. The 27-year-old, like Dominic Thiem, brought up the the situation at the 2020 Australian Open too.

"Especially in Australia a couple of years ago when the bushfires were happening and the qualifiers for the Australian Open were taking place at the same time, the smoke inhalation was awful for quite a few people," Robson said. "Even though we’ve been taught over the years that [the heat] is part of the tour, match start timings have been getting delayed over the last few years because it’s too hot to play during the day like we saw at Tokyo Olympics."
"Health and safety of the players comes first," she added. "There's definitely been a couple of heat related illnesses that I have seen across the tour this year, and we need to keep that at an absolute minimum."

When asked whether she feels a responsibility to protect the environment through the platform provided to her by tennis, Laura Robson shifted the conversation towards the recent ATP campaign featuring Dominic Thiem. The Brit claimed that Thiem would have a "better understanding" of the matter since he's been involved so closely with it, before asserting that every small effort counts for a lot.

"I saw yesterday that Dominic was sort of announced as the face of the ATP platform, so he’s probably got a better understanding of how to voice your opinions when you have a platform to support it," Robson said. "Personally, I think it’s the small efforts, the day to day stuff which we do that will really start to matter."

At the end of the conversation, Dominic Thiem reiterated what he mentioned in the ATP campaign.

"Climate change is the greatest challenge, and we athletes in sports in general have a great power and influence," the Austrian said. "I was trying to raise awareness with my own channels, but now I’m super happy that the ATP is on board. ATP, WTA and ITA have a great fanbase. So many people are following tennis, so we tried to give a good example and make as positive a change as possible [through the campaign]."

Edited by Musab Abid
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