By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian sports stars, sparked in part by a call to action from tennis player Nick Kyrgios, have rallied to raise funds in support of relief and recovery efforts for victims of the country’s bushfire catastrophe.
Hundreds of wildfires have scorched more than 5.25 million hectares (13 million acres) of bushland and destroyed over 1,000 homes over the last few months.
Kyrgios, the country’s best known current tennis player, called on Thursday for the organization of a fundraising exhibition event ahead of the Australia Open, the year’s first Grand Slam which kicks off in Melbourne on Jan. 20.
Australian cricketers Glenn Maxwell and Chris Lynn pledged A$250 for every six they hit during the Big Bash League Twenty20 tournament.
There have also been pledges of help from A-League soccer clubs in the state of Victoria and American basketballer LaMelo Ball – a top-five NBA draft prospect – who has offered to donate one month’s salary from the Illawarra Hawks.
Tennis Australia said on Friday it would hold a “Rally for Relief” exhibition match at the Rod Laver Arena on Jan. 15 to help raise funds, while proceeds from a Jessica Mauboy concert on the eve of the Open will also be donated to the Red Cross appeal.
Kyrgios said he would be at the exhibition and while no other names have been confirmed, most of the best tennis players in the world are already in Australia for the inaugural edition of the ATP Cup and other warm-up tournaments.
Kyrgios has also put his hand up individually by promising a A$200 ($140) donation for every ace he serves during Australia’s summer of tennis and has been joined by a number of fellow players in the drive, including former U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur.
Hazardous smoke from the fires forced the abandonment of a Big Bash match in the nation’s capital on Dec. 21 and organizers, anticipating similar disruption, decided on Friday to move the Canberra International tennis tournament.
The ATP Challenger/ITF Futures tournament, scheduled to take place in Canberra next week, has been moved to the city of Bendigo.
Sporting events went ahead under sunny skies in Sydney on Friday with no sign of the thick layer of smoke that has shrouded the city on several occasions over the last few months.
The third cricket test between Australia and New Zealand at the Sydney Cricket Ground got underway in front of a big crowd under sunny skies after a minute of applause for the emergency services fighting the fires.
Organizers have prepared for smoke delays during the match with all eyes on Saturday when temperatures are set to soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
(Additional reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai, Editing by Sam Holmes and Raju Gopalakrishnan)