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How a Kiwi tennis star came to give half his winnings to charity

Will Toogood,
Publish Date
Sat, 16 Mar 2024, 1:08PM
File photo (Getty Images)
File photo (Getty Images)

How a Kiwi tennis star came to give half his winnings to charity

Will Toogood,
Publish Date
Sat, 16 Mar 2024, 1:08PM

One of New Zealand’s finest tennis products is aiming to leave his mark on not only tennis but the world with a pledge to donate half his yearly winnings to charity. 

After a two-year hiatus due to serious knee injuries, Marcus Daniell is back on court and has his sights set on a strong end to his career at marquee tournaments including the French Open, Wimbledon, the US Open and a shot at the Paris Olympics in July. 

But this year Daniell will be serving for more than Olympic glory. After committing to donating at least 10 per cent of his annual winnings to effective charity organisations in 2021, the 34-year-old has announced the ground-breaking pledge to support high-impact charities aimed at combating the climate crisis, alleviating extreme poverty and improving animal welfare. 

The Olympic Bronze medallist tells the Herald he feels it makes sense to give back to charities that demonstrate they can make the biggest difference for each dollar. 

“If you’re going to give, it makes sense to do as much good as possible. For each dollar, you may as well make the biggest impact you can, because why not, right?” 

New Zealand's Marcus Daniell (left) and Michael Venus with the Olympic Bronze medal. Photo / Photosport

New Zealand's Marcus Daniell (left) and Michael Venus with the Olympic Bronze medal. Photo / Photosport 

The concept of giving back is not new to Daniell, whose pledge in 2021 was preceded by donations beginning in 2015 that have increased over the years to match his income from tennis. 

“Until then [2015] I was losing money every year playing tennis. End of 2014 I started breaking even and I feel like I can actually make a living from this sport and then when I felt that financial security, I had this really strong urge to start giving back. 

“Sport just is really selfish, there’s no way around it, and it’s necessary but it never really sat with the person I wanted to be. So I started thinking how to balance the scales but didn’t really trust the charities that I’d grown up around.” 

That distrust in some of the more prominent charities led Daniell down a “rabbit hole” of research in which he identified the climate, animal welfare and alleviating poverty as the three biggest, most obvious and accessible areas. 

In 2015, Daniell began with a pledge of 1 per cent of his earnings. That was increased to 5 per cent the next year and by 2020, 8 per cent of his takings from tennis would be headed to charity. 

“So it was a journey starting from a smaller amount, what felt on the edges of comfortable for me and then realising ‘I gave 1 per cent of my money away but I didn’t notice a difference in the quality of my life’. I wasn’t struggling to put food on the table with 1 per cent. 

“The more I gave, the better I felt about it. It just seemed like the right thing to do.” 

In 2021 the Masterton-born Saint Kentigern College-educated Daniell signed up for the Giving What We Can Pledge, a public commitment to give a percentage of your income or wealth to organisations that can most effectively help others, for the rest of your career. 

It was a knee injury that forced Daniell off the court, but a combination of Olympic dreams and an opportunity to make a statement and use his platform to galvanise others towards his mission inspired him to take one last dance. 

With that last dance came the most powerful statement yet: a decision to pledge half of his winnings from tennis to those high-impact charities. 

“One is it’s an Olympic year and I’ve had the most incredible experiences at the Olympics. So I wanted to do that, make another Olympic campaign. Second reason was I feel like I’ve done a really poor job of using the small platform that I have to talk about giving and about these ideas. 

“I wanted to do a better job of that and I felt like in order to do a good job it would really help if I made a commitment that really jumped out at people: 50 per cent does that. 

“I need to show people that I have full commitment to it and belief in the things that we’re giving to, so that’s the idea behind the 50 per cent.” 

Marcus Daniell hopes to use his platform to provide high-impact charities with more resources. Photo / Photosport

Marcus Daniell hopes to use his platform to provide high-impact charities with more resources. Photo / Photosport 

Identifying charities that are the most effective use of funds is something Daniell says is paramount to him and the initiative he co-founded, High-Impact Athletes, which aims to connect world-class athletes with world-class charities. 

The organisation already boasts a star-studded lineup of more than 200 athletes from around the world who have committed to becoming champions for change, including fellow tennis player Stefanos Tsistipas, Black Cap Lockie Ferguson, golfer Ryan Fox and boxer David Nyika. 

Daniell says countless hours of research go into ensuring the charities they support have the high-impact outcomes necessary to bring about actual change. 

“You can never be 100 per cent sure because at the end of the day you have to trust something, but the charities that we’re donating to are the most deeply researched charities in the world.” 

“Not only have they had many of tens of thousands of hours of research put into them, from all of that research from a pile of many thousands, they have been deemed the most cost-effective.” 

This year, fans can sign up to donate a dollar amount for each point Daniell wins on this year’s tour. If you were to pledge 10c for each point, your estimated total donation at the end of the year would be $104. 

In an ideal world, Daniell says, charities wouldn’t exist. The aim of his initiative and pledge is to use his platform to go some way to solving problems in three of the biggest areas of concern for our planet. 

“Our ultimate end goal for High Impact Athletes is to not exist ... I think that should be every charity’s goal: solve the problem.” 

Will Toogood is an Online Sports Editor for the NZ HeraldHe has previously worked for Newstalk ZB’s digital team and at Waiheke’s Gulf News, covering sport and events. 

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