Naomi Osaka has my sympathy but her stance could be harmful

It would be nice to talk about the French Open tennis rather than Naomi Osaka but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen any time soon.

Osaka is the world No.2 with four grand slams to her name, and is the most commercially endorsed female athlete in sport. She banks £30million a year before hitting a ball.

She issued a statement before the tournament to say she would not be speaking to the media, declaring she felt stressed facing media questions in a press conference setting, was concerned over the effect this had on her mental health and she did not want to subject herself to people who doubt her.

The grand slams, the four major championships, united immediately to clarify players’ commitments under the code of conduct and that includes the threat of fines and expulsion from future tournaments.

What has not been mentioned enough is they sought to communicate with Osaka to clarify her position and to ask how they could help her.

There was a ‘lack of engagement’ from Osaka and amid a media furore, she withdrew from the tournament. Osaka subsequently produced a very well thought out and well communicated statement in which she said her timing could have been better and her messaging clearer.

She also apologised to journalists. Since then there has been an enormous amount of ill-informed debate about her situation and it now seems anybody that would question any element of what has happened so far is either racist, ageist or sexist. Typical culture wars/identity political nonsense.

Here’s my take. I support Osaka’s quest to protect herself and I believe her when she says she has suffered waves of depression and anxiety for the last three years.

If she can’t face scrutiny directly from the media then an accommodation must be found for her and others who feel the same. But the media have a right to question and even talk to these global stars and the fear is that if one player withdraws their consent then many others will follow and that would be extremely damaging to the game.

Would we really be comfortable with a press that was only ever able to reprint what anybody said on their social media channels without interrogation? Would broadcast and media rights companies sign deals worth billions if their only product was tennis balls being hit? Absolutely not. We have to know the personality and the character of the protagonists.

In short we have to care about the people playing and they have to care for the sport.

Bubble has well and truly burst for upset Jamie

Andy Murray is going to be at Wimbledon this year.

It will be quite a moment to see him walk out to compete after so many false starts due to injury and his bout of Covid that kept him away from the Australian Open.

When it comes to grasscourt know-how, Murray is probably still top ten in the world and there won’t be anybody in the draw that will want to see their name opposite his.

A Roger Federer-Murray first-round match is a possibility — that would be box-office!

It is Andy’s older brother Jamie Murray who has been making the headlines lately.

He has been very outspoken, firstly on the 23% reduction in the doubles prize money at the French Open and now the accommodation arrangements for the championships at Wimbledon.

Jamie can’t understand why people who are vaccinated are not allowed to stay at home and live relatively normal lives during the tournament and he surely has a point, although this is to do with governmental regulations and Covid compliance rather than the All England Club.

It does make for a very different feel for the players, who have a choice of one hotel for the tournament and they can’t leave the bubble of hotel and tournament site.

It is extremely restrictive and very claustrophobic and, for those of a gregarious nature, very stifling.

We have all been tested to the limit of our resilience and professional athletes are no different. But at least they still have a job which is more than can be said for many.

I applaud Jamie being outspoken and I don’t doubt for a minute he speaks for much of the draw. I just hope that tournament transportation from central London works smoothly.

London’s roads are horrendous at the moment. It’s a very hard city to get around and utterly joyless.

An emotional return to Wimbledon

The grass at Wimbledon is absolutely perfect as ever, the planting is beautiful and the stage is set after a two-year absence. I am so thankful to be able to play tennis there and this week with three mates we played a couple of sets on Court Nine.

To see the netting up and with Centre Court as a backdrop, my heart leapt as we stepped onto the grass. These are the same feelings I’ve had since my first visit in 1977.

Afterwards we could use the changing rooms for the first time in over a year and then to the restaurant.

It was the first day back after 15 months for the restaurant manager and he couldn’t answer when we asked him how it felt to be back, he was too emotional.

So this is where we all are now, trying to re-emerge into the sunlight and pick up the pieces of the lives we led before. Many of us have not been well and will be feeling the effects of Covid and lockdown for the rest of our lives.

Wimbledon this year will mean even more than it normally does. However many fans are allowed, there will be a tournament, great sport, arguments and tears.

And by the end of the fortnight we will be well into July and with luck and a strong vaccine take-up, there will also be good health.

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