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The Naomi Osaka And French Open Controversy, Explained

“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health."

Four-time Grand Slam winner, Naomi Osaka, has announced she will not be competing in the 2021 French Open following a public outcry to protect her mental health earlier this month, citing that speaking to the media following matches sparked her years-long battle with depression. Read on for an explanation of what exactly happened. 

Naomi Osaka Says She Will Not Participate In Press Conferences At The French Open. 

On May 27, 2021, Osaka announced that she would not be participating in press conferences during her appearance at the 2021 French Open, also known as Roland Garros. In an Instagram post that has since been deleted, Osaka shared the reasoning behind her decision: “I’m writing this to say I’m not going to do any press during Roland Garros,” she wrote to her 2.3 million followers. “I’ve 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.”

“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’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me,” the tennis star added, referring to targeted questions about a loss to “kicking a person while they’re down.”  

She finished, “I’ve watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well.”

naomi osaka
Naomi Osaka pictured at the 2019 French Open (Credit: Getty Images)

Osaka Was Fined $15,000 By All Four Grand Slam Tournaments. 

After making her appearance in the first round of the French Open on May 30, 2021, Osaka did not speak to the press which resulted in all four Grand Slam tournaments—Roland Garros, Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open—releasing a joint statement directed to the 23-year-old athlete. 

“Naomi Osaka today chose not to honour her contractual media obligations,” it read. “The Roland-Garros referee has therefore issued her a $15,000 fine, in keeping with article III H. of the Code of Conduct. The mental health of players competing in our tournaments and on the Tours is of the utmost importance to the Grand Slams.”

The statement added that the fine was issued as a matter of fairness to other players. “We want to underline that rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement,” the statement continued. “As a sport there is nothing more important than ensuring no player has an unfair advantage over another, which unfortunately is the case in this situation if one player refuses to dedicate time to participate in media commitments while the others all honour their commitments.”

The organisations later warned that Osaka would face disqualification or even suspension if she continued to refuse to speak with the press. 

Osaka Announces Her Decision To Withdraw From The French Open.

Following the joint statement from the Grand Slam tournaments, Osaka announced her decision to formally step away from the 2021 French Open.

“Hey everyone, this isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago,” she wrote. “I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris.”

The athlete added that she never intended “to be a distraction”, openly admitting to a years-long battle with depression. “More importantly I would never trivialise mental health or use the term lightly. The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that.” 

“Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety,” she continued. “I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try and engage and give you the best answers I can.”

The French Open Called Osaka’s Withdrawal “Unfortunate.” 

Following Osaka’s decision, French tennis federation president Gilles Moretton called the decision “unfortunate.” 

“The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland Garros is unfortunate,” he told media. “We wish her the best and the quickest possible recovery, and we look forward to having Naomi in our tournament next year.” 

He added that the French Open is “very committed to all athletes’ well-being, and to continually improving every aspect of players’ experience in our tournamentincluding with the media, like we have always strived to do.”

Moretton quickly drew criticism after refusing to take questions from the press following the statement. 

Osaka’s Statement Received An Outcry Of Public Support.

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