/ 02 June 2021

Osaka shines a light on mental health

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open after she was fined for her decision to bypass the press has elevated the issues of promoting good mental health in sport. The world #2 ranked player and self-confessed introvert said she’s dealt with “long bouts of depression” since her US Open win in 2018 and that she was feeling anxious coming into the French Open. Since her statement yesterday, many high profile sporting types have said it’s a watershed moment that could lead to a better understanding of the pressure elite sports put on their participants.

A whole lot. Head of the French Tennis Federation Gilles Moretton fronted the media yesterday and called Osaka’s withdrawal “unfortunate”, but wished her the “best and quickest possible recovery” – and then refused to take questions… Japan, her sponsors and many athletes expressed their support for Osaka. But tennis icon Billie Jean King said while the media needs to respect boundaries, Osaka wouldn’t be the world’s best-paid female athlete without her media profile. Note: the 23yo earned more than $55 million last year – nearly all of it from sponsorship deals.

Many hope that what’s happened is a catalyst for positive change in professional sport. Grand slam organisers have committed to “continually reviewing and discussing opportunities” for players – including with the media. “But we consider this is only ever achieved through respectful and constructive discussions,” it said. For Osaka’s part, she’s taking some time away from tennis but said “when the time is right”, she wants to work with officials to discuss how to make things “better for the players, press and fans”. And as for her return, Wimbledon starts in 4 weeks, and the Tokyo Olympics – where she is set to headline – is 7 weeks off. Whether Osaka plays or not – that’ll be a wait and see…

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