Naomi Osaka: Time for tennis to walk the walk.
This week Japan’s tennis star Naomi Osaka has hit the headlines after refusing to take part in media interviews at the French Open. In response for breaking the code of conduct she received a $15,000 fine. Today she announced that she was withdrawing from the tournament in order to prioritise her mental health and did not want her controversial boycott to become a distraction from the tennis. Osaka shared on social media that she had previously struggled with bouts of depression and anxiety prior to conducting post-match press conferences.
Whilst some might argue that as one of the highest paid female tennis players in the world she has an “obligation” to talk to the media and "it's part of her job", I would argue that it is for those exact reasons that she is able to use her voice to create change.
In today's society, we understand more about mental health and we talk about it more than we ever have before. We talk about it being "ok not to be ok" and "tackling the stigma", but we need to do more than just talk the talk.
When someone has the courage and strength that Osaka has displayed to speak up and say they are not ok, and to put down boundaries in order to protect their own mental health and wellbeing, we must respect that.
Statements from the Grand Slam Tournaments Board stated that they wanted to support Osaka in any way possible. As a governing body the International Tennis Federation should have a duty of care to work with athletes to protect their mental health. Statements and talking are helpful but it is now time for the world of tennis to walk the walk.
The world of tennis now faces a choice. A choice that could set a precedent for other sporting organisations and governing bodies. A choice that will have a significant impact on the culture of the sport moving forward. They can either continue business as normal, move on from this without changing, waiting for the next story to come along or they can choose to act.
Yes, players have a responsibility to engage with the media irrespective of the outcome of the match but does it need to be straight after the match? One suggestion could be that the International Tennis Federation or the board of grand slam tournaments consider allowing athletes a buffer period, post-match, before they are required to participate in media interviews. Be it one hour or twenty four, allow the athletes time to process their emotions in a safe environment with support and to analyse their performance before conducting a media interview or issuing a statement to the media. This way the athlete is protected and the media get a more composed response that considers the tactical components of the game and a better reflection from the athlete.
The time is now, tennis. You can talk the talk but will you walk the walk?
Zoe Black Sport Psychology