Federer plays big brother to village children

GOVHU, South Africa Thu Feb 21, 2013 8:57am IST

Roger Federer of Switzerland attends a news conference after he was defeated in his men's singles semi-final match by Andy Murray of Britain at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 26, 2013. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar/Files

Roger Federer of Switzerland attends a news conference after he was defeated in his men's singles semi-final match by Andy Murray of Britain at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 26, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar/Files

Rajalakshmi (C), 28, smiles after winning the Miss Wheelchair India beauty pageant in Mumbai November 26, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Miss Wheelchair India

Seven women from across India participated in the country's second wheelchair beauty pageant, which aims to open doors for the wheelchair-bound in modelling, film and television, according to organisers  Slideshow 

GOVHU, South Africa (Reuters) - "Big brother Roger," as the village schoolteachers call him, smiles at the small children and asks them to guess which sport he plays.

Most of the bright-eyed three-year-olds have no idea who their visitor is but one, quicker than the rest, pipes up: "You play tennis!".

Delighted, Roger Federer turns his palms up to reveal a badly calloused right hand punished by 23 years of holding a racquet, showing the children the difference from the smoother left one.

There are few parts of the world where the man considered as the greatest ever tennis player and holder of a record 17 grand slam titles is not instantly recognised.

Here, in rural South Africa where he is visiting one of the village pre-schools his charitable foundation supports, the Swiss is unfamiliar to the children but commands their attention and curiosity.

In a small, cool, classroom, the toddlers sheltering from the heat stand with heads tipped upwards and eyes fixed on the towering champion as he hits a tennis ball against a wall, demonstrating how to swing a racquet.

Federer looks composed in the sweltering heat of Limpopo province, on the border with Zimbabwe, even though his bright red shirt, wet with sweat by noon, gives him away.

Deep in the densely vegetated village some 20 kilometres from the nearest paved road, the ground is parched and dust flies into the air as brightly-costumed Venda women dance to entertain their world-famous guest.

"My heart is in South Africa, through my mum," Federer, the son of a Swiss father and a South African mother, told Reuters.

"My mum being from here, me spending a lot of time here as well, I feel most connected to this part of the world."

The Roger Federer Foundation supports 40 pre-schools in the area and spends over $3 million a year on educational projects in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Ethiopia and Federer's home country Switzerland. Over 50,000 children benefited from the foundation's efforts in 2012 to improve quality education in pre-schools and primary schools.

BROKEN EDUCATION SYSTEM

"When I travelled the world, I definitely saw poor countries, people who told me it was so hard for them to get an education," said Federer, who was visiting two pre-schools in the Limpopo province with his mother this week to mark the 10th anniversary of his foundation being founded.

"I always liked the idea of education because in our world going to school is the most normal thing in the world. We sometimes forget what a privilege it is, to go to school."

South Africa has a broken education system, inherited from decades of inferior education for the majority black population under the apartheid system.

Nineteen years into democracy and the new government is still overwhelmed by the task, with some high-school leavers managing pass rates of only 30 percent.

In this place, a decent education remains beyond the reach of many children and some 80 percent of the community is unemployed, the village chief's representative said.

For a man who has earned close to $80 million in prize money alone thanks to his exploits on a tennis court, Federer has never forgotten the value of a good education.

Federer admits he did not always do his best at school, saying: "I used to have many more regrets when I was younger, because I was a bit crazy.

"At school, I wouldn't always learn for my tests as much as I should have. I think that's why today I'm so dedicated to both things, so people don't do the same mistakes as I did, even though I was able to turn the corner in time."

The father of twin daughters, Federer added: "I like to be an idol for kids, I do. For me it's important to be a good role model and I live accordingly.

"But I'm not changing for it, I do it because I believe in it and because it is natural."

During his three-hour visit to the pre-school in Govhu, Federer held a captive audience as he read the story of the 'Gingerbread Man' out to the 30 or so children who sat around him.

As his visit comes to an end, Federer leaves with the words of the village school principal echoing in his ears: "If it is possible, please, come back to us again." (Editing by Clare Fallon and Pritha Sarkar)

Cricketer Dies

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Brazilian Cup

Brazilian Cup

Atletico Mineiro win Brazilian Cup.  Full Article 

Golf Update

Golf Update

Steady as she goes for jet-lagged McIlroy in Sydney.  Full Article 

Indian Soccer

Indian Soccer

India's two leagues to merge within five years - FA official.  Full Article 

Proud Wenger

Proud Wenger

Wenger proud of Arsenal but says they can do better   Full Article | Related Story 

Mandzukic Hat-trick

Mandzukic Hat-trick

Mandzukic shifts into top gear with European treble  Full Article 

Sun's Doping Ban

Sun's Doping Ban

WADA may appeal Sun's three-month doping ban  Full Article 

Unimpressive Liverpool

Unimpressive Liverpool

Liverpool stumble again as Terziev earns Ludogorets late draw  Full Article 

Real Beat Basel

Real Beat Basel

Ronaldo strike sinks gallant Basel  Full Article 

England vs Lanka

England vs Lanka

England fall short in Sri Lanka despite Moheen century  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage