Naomi Osaka’s decision to boycott press conferences at Roland Garros was blasted as a “phenomenal error” by the head of French tennis, who said the Japanese star’s move was “unacceptable”.
World No. 2 Osaka said she will not take part in any media duties at the French Open which starts on Sunday.
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The 23-year-old said she was concerned by the effect of news conferences on her mental health which she likened to “kicking a person while they’re down”.
However, French Tennis Federation (FFT) president Gilles Moretton lambasted Osaka, a four-time major winner.
“It is a phenomenal error and it shows to what extent it is necessary to have strong governance,” he said.
“What is happening is not, in my opinion, acceptable. It is tennis we want to promote.”
Osaka will likely be fined up to $AUD25,000 for every news conference she skips. However, that will cause little financial impact — in 2020, she made nearly $50 million, more than any other female athlete.
Osaka said she will donate any fines to mental health charities.
“I have often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” Osaka said on Twitter.
“We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I am not going to subject myself to people who doubt me.”
Osaka will let her racquet do the talking.Source:Getty Images
Plot thickens as email revealed
Osaka also sent an email to French Open organisers explaining her decision. The email was revealed by Sports Illustrated tennis reporter Jon Wertheim on social media.
In it, Osaka thanks organisers for their hard work in ensuring the grand slam can go ahead and says her decision is “nothing against the French Open or even the press members themselves”.
“This stance is against the system requiring athletes to be forced to do press on occasions when they are suffering from mental health. I believe it is archaic and in need of reform,” Osaka wrote.
“After this tournament I want to work with the Tours and the governing bodies to figure out how we best compromise to change the system.
“Unfortunately for Roland Garros this has happened during your tournament, which is just pure coincidence and nothing personal. I have nothing but respect for your event. “
Under tennis tournament rules, all players are required to hold press conferences after each match. They also perform media duties before a tournament.
Osaka regularly packs out media rooms because of her standing in the sport and her charisma.
She fields questions in Japanese and English and is regarded as one of the world’s most marketable stars.
She added on Wednesday: “I believe the whole situation (of news conferences) is kicking a person while they are down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.”
French Open tournament director Guy Forget said he was stunned by Osaka’s decision which he found at odds with a tournament still facing organisational challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic.
“As the tournament progresses, we will see how she behaves. I don’t know what her attitude will be in the coming days, but it doesn’t send a very positive message,” said Forget.
Men’s world No. 1 Novak Djokovic said press conferences are part of the job for tennis players.
“I understand the press conferences sometimes can be very unpleasant, and it’s not something you enjoy always — especially if you lose a match,” he said.
“But it is part of the sport and part of your life on the tour, and this is something we will have to do, otherwise we will get fined.”
Osaka has yet to get beyond the third round at Roland Garros.
The world No. 2 is taking a stand.Source:AFP
Support comes in for Osaka
Osaka has also received support for her stance from other quarters. British player Naomi Broady said the solution may be not requiring players to speak to reporters within 30 minutes of their match, to give them more time to digest the result.
“If it was just more time after that big loss, so that you can compose yourself and digest and cry out of the spotlight,” she told the BBC.
“It’s difficult because it is also your opportunity to show your passion and your personality, but if it’s on an occasion when you are so upset it’s difficult that you’re almost forced by the rules to do it so quickly.”
British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith is right behind Osaka, saying: “This is so correct. I support this.
“I love that Naomi has the courage to do this and she is so right. The mental health of the athletes in these situations can’t be ignored.”
Former tennis player Zina Garrison and ex-F1 world champion Nico Rosberg were among other athletes to support Osaka on social media.
Osaka a big winner in French Open draw
Ash Barty received a nightmare French Open draw but it was better news for Osaka. She starts against Romania’s 63rd-ranked Patricia Maria Tig, and looks like facing American Alison Riske in the third round.
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