Serving a purpose

Serving a purpose

The Sustainability Report sits down with Olympic bronze medallist, five-time ATP titles winner and founder of High Impact Athletes Marcus Daniell to discuss the Back With Impact tour

We’ve moved beyond ‘shut up and dribble’ in 2024, but the responsibilities of professional athletes outside their sport are still regularly questioned. When it comes to issues like sustainability, is it really an athlete’s responsibility to speak up and act, even if they feel passionate enough that they cannot sit by and do nothing?

It’s often other stakeholders like event organisers and governing bodies that are responsible for environmental issues in sport like devising nonsequential calendars that make extensive flight travel unavoidable, yet athletes are criticised for being hypocritical if they show an interest in sustainability. 

Rightfully, this outside noise doesn’t stop many athletes from acting, just as anyone else feels inclined to make a noise about issues they care for. It has been well-documented how athlete voices carry a certain weight due to their positions of social influence, and it is when they harness this connection to other people where their voices are most resounding. 

One such athlete is Tokyo 2020 men’s tennis doubles bronze medallist, five-time ATP titles winner and founder of High Impact Athletes (HIA) Marcus Daniell. 

“When you achieve something [like the Olympics bronze medal] that forces you to stop and reflect, that community piece is one of the things that makes me tear up the most,” he tells The Sustainability Report.

Daniell is counting on his community to rally around his latest ambition, the Back With Impact tour. After taking the Giving What We Can pledge to donate 10% of his annual winnings to charity organisations in 2021, Daniell returned in January from an extended injury layoff for his final year as a tennis professional in 2024, making the unprecedented commitment to donate 50% of his winnings to high-impact charities, focusing on extreme poverty, animal welfare and environmental impact. 

Concentrating primarily on the Grand Slams and winning a shinier medal at Paris 2024, Daniell is seeking to raise $100,000, which would:

Protect ~28,000 humans from devastating diseases and malnutrition

Protect ~138,000 animals from torturous living conditions 

Mitigate ~12,500 tonnes of CO2e from the environment

This won’t be exclusively raised through prize money, but from donations for every point Daniell wins in 2024. By pledging to donate $0.10 for every point Daniell wins this season, fans can expect to donate around $100 by the end of the season. 

The appeal of tennis and many other sports lies in their ups and downs as they are being played, and HIA want to utilise this drama to make donating more engaging. 

“What we’ve seen is people really want a story,” says Daniell, who describes the donating mechanism as like “gambling but positive sum”. Simply, the more matches Daniell wins, the more funds he’ll raise. 

Since Daniell founded HIA in 2020, the organisation has mitigated around 197,000 tonnes of CO2e. Beginning as a 2020 lockdown project, he threw himself into HIA full-time for most of 2022 and 2023 while recovering from a significant knee injury. He wasn’t sure he’d ever play professional tennis again. 

But 14 years on from his ATP debut in 2010, Daniell realised he could leverage one final season to bring more people along on the HIA journey. 

“If it was solely going on tour and playing one more year, it wasn’t interesting enough for me to do that,” he says. Prize money for doubles players isn’t as much as singles, but Daniell knew the percentage of what he donated had to be significant, and the opportunity to use tennis to engage fans and make the world a better place was too alluring to ignore. And so, Back With Impact was born.  

It’s not just fans who are getting behind Back With Impact though, but other athletes. Through HIA, Daniell has essentially scaled a sense of community that began in Wairarapa to professional sports. HIA added almost 100 athletes to its roster in 2023, including 2023 US Open semi-finalist Ben Shelton. The 21-year-old finished second in the first season that the ATP offered a Carbon Tracker to players – a tool enabling them to offset travel emissions – which earned Shelton a $30,000 charity donation. The American chose HIA’s environmental portfolio, supporting climate initiatives emphasising clean air, agriculture innovation and reducing CO2e.

“I like their vision of getting the most value out of every dollar donated,” he said. “When you look at the athletes that have gotten behind the organisation from all these different sports, you can see how that vision is resonating.”

HIA veers away from offsets, but Daniell, one of the ATP Carbon Tracker’s beta testers, doesn’t want to be “dismissive about actions people are taking that are based on really good intentions and the information they had at the time. It’s vastly better than nothing because they’re thinking about it.” 

Back With Impact and Daniell’s playing career will culminate in January 2025 on home soil at the Auckland Classic, which Daniell won on his ATP Tour debut as a wildcard in 2010 alongside Horia Tecau. It will be clear by then whether the communities in Daniell’s life rallied around Back With Impact as he hoped, but if early signs are anything to go by – $26,925 of the $100,000 goal has already been raised at time of writing – the impact of what Daniell achieves both on and off the court will reverberate for a long time to come.

Photo credit: © John Cowpland / 

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