MELBOURNE, Australia — International and Australian sports stars began pitching in on the weekend to help relief efforts in flood-ravaged Queensland state.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will headline a special sold-out “Rally for Relief” exhibition event at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on Sunday, a day before the start of the Australian Open.
The floodwaters that swamped entire neighborhoods in Brisbane, the state capital, left behind a thick layer of putrid sludge and affected more than 30,000 homes. Weeks of rain and flooding across Australia’s northeast have left 26 people dead and 20 more are missing.
On Saturday, Federer said at an Australian Open media conference that he watched details of the flooding on television while playing at a tournament in Qatar.
“When I saw it hit the city of Rockhampton, I right away thought of Rod Laver,” Federer said of Laver’s birthplace.
“I tried to reach out to him and see if he wanted to do anything, if he needed my help. Once I came down to Australia, I spoke to him … I said ‘this time we have more than 24 hours’ notice, so we’ll be able to generate more money, especially in a country where we’re playing right at the moment.’.”
“It’s very appropriate and a must for us to do something as a tennis family really. I’m really happy we’ve been able to do it again.”
Laver agreed it was important for the “tennis family” to help the cause.
“I have been moved by what I have seen not only in my home town but across Queensland and Australia,” Laver said in a statement from his home in California. “This is a tragedy of international proportions and it is devastating to see so many families who now have nowhere to go.
“My thoughts are with you all and it makes me proud as an Australian to see how everyone pitches in during a time of crisis like this.”
Last year, many top players including Federer and Nadal held a similar charity exhibition for victims of the Haiti earthquake.
Players competing Sunday will also donate the shirts they wore in the exhibition in a “Shirts off their Backs” auction that is expected to raise thousands more for the flood appeal, and buckets will be passed around during the event asking for donations.
On Saturday, Australian Open organizers held a “Kids are Free” day with entry a one or two dollar donation that will be passed on to the flood appeal.
Meanwhile, Australian Associated Press reported that Australian NBA star Andrew Bogut of the Milwaukee Bucks will auction off “The Bogut Experience” in a special bid to raise funds for the flood victims.
Bogut’s package included two return flights to Los Angeles, two tickets to see Bogut’s Bucks play the defending champions Los Angeles Lakers and dinner with Bogut.
“I’m trying to raise awareness not only in Australia, but in the world that this is a huge issue and Australia needs not only Australia’s help, but the world’s help,” Bogut said.
The Portland Trail Blazers will send a percentage of Bogut’s Australian teammate Patrick Mills’ jersey sales toward the flood relief efforts.
“It is really tough knowing that your fellow Australians are going through this and you’re over here (in America), you feel helpless,” Mills said. “What I’m trying to do is do whatever I can to try and help out.”
Players from at least four National Rugby League clubs planned to fly north to help Brisbane and other areas clean up after the massive floods that devastated the area.
The Parramatta Eels united with other western Sydney clubs Penrith, Canterbury and Wests Tigers to aid the relief effort for those affected by the flooding.
The Queensland Reds Super 15 rugby team used their home stadium at Ballymore as a medical triage base on Saturday. People with non-critical injuries from the floods were invited to see team doctors and other physicians for free.
“It’s inevitable that some people, including emergency response personnel will require treatment for injuries suffered as the result of wading through floodwaters and we expect the normal rate of hospital presentations to increase as a consequence,” said Queensland’s chief health officer Dr. Jeannette Young.
In horse racing, one of Australia’s biggest carnivals, the Magic Millions on the Gold Coast, south of Brisbane, scaled back the racing program and instead concentrated on raising a “magic” $1 million for the flood victims.
Stud nominations for mares were donated and were to be auctioned at the Magic Millions final premium yearling sale on Saturday night. With nominations worth between $27,000 and $100,000 each, proceeds from their auction were expected to add at least $250,000 to the fund’s total.
A minute’s silence was scheduled to be observed before the main race of the day on Saturday afternoon in a tribute to the victims of the disaster.