World number two Naomi Osaka has been put on notice by the organisers of ongoing French Open and the other Grand Slams for her refusal to speak to media.
Osaka, who hails from Japan, was fined $15,000 for not participating in a press conference after her first-round straight sets win over Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig on Sunday (May 30).
Osaka tweeted a few days back saying “she is not going to do any press during Roland Garros because she wants to protect her mental health”.
The organisers of the four Grand Slam tournaments (US, French, Wimbledon and Australian Open), also called G4, issued a joint statement, warning the 23-year-old to relent or face “more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions”.
Osaka, who has openly supported the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign, tweeted in response:
“Change makes people uncomfortable”.
For records, Osaka did take part in the usual on-court interview after her victory over Tig. “My movement on clay is a work in progress. If I keep playing more matches, hopefully it will get better,” she said.
What did Osaka say that ticked off G4?
Last week, Naomi Osaka declared on Twitter that she would not go before the media while the French Open is on, arguing that press conferences affect “players’ mental health”.
The four-time Grand Slam winner said expecting players to answer questions after a defeat amounted to “kicking a person while they’re down”.
“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,” Osaka posted.
“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.”
How did the Grand Slam organisers respond?
A Roland Garros team tried hard to pacify Osaka and asked her to reconsider her decision, but failed to break the ice.
“A core element of the Grand Slam regulations is the responsibility of the players to engage with the media, whatever the result of their match, a responsibility which players take for the benefit of the sport, the fans and for themselves,” read a statement issued by G4 (four Grand Slams) organisers.
“We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences.
“As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions, including default from the tournament and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions.”
As per Grand Slam rules, players can be fined up to $20,000 (£14,160) for failing to meet their media obligations. So in that sense, the organisers have been lenient to Osaka because she was fined only $15,000.
Other sportspersons said…
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) opposed Osaka’s stand saying that players “have a responsibility to their sport and their fans and should speak to the media during competitions”.
Naomi Cavaday, former British player, told BBC: “Even if you agree with what Osaka is trying to get across and you think it can be a little unfair at times, the way she has gone about it is extraordinary. No dialogue with the WTA, no dialogue with Roland Garros or with the other Grand Slams at all.”
Naomi Broady, another British player, said, “Largely the prize money given to us is from the media rights that the tournament sells and if you’re not participating with the media then maybe you can’t participate in the tournament.”
Several athletes appreciated Osaka’s stance, but many said that speaking to the media is “part of the job”.
Russell Fuller, BBC tennis correspondent, said, “Whatever you think about the rights and wrongs of this, Osaka has got into a mess at the start of the second Grand Slam of the year.”
Journalists, in general, responded angrily to Osaka’s stance. Many of them took to social media or their regular column or on-air discussions to vent out their displeasure.
Their main concern was: “What if every player decided not to attend (press meet)?”
Another journalist wrote that Osaka gets big money only because the media writes and talks about her because of what happens in those press conferences. “There’s a pretty fair argument to mount that she wins the big bucks because she wins tournaments,” the write wrote.
Is not speaking to media such a big deal?
The first question that needs an answer is: “Is the popularity of French Open dependent on Naomi Osaka’s response to media questions?”
As former player and chief executive of the Australian Open, Paul McNamee, said: “Anyway, who watches a grand slam to see Naomi Osaka talk?”
Trying to pacify the storm, McNamee said: “Someone needs to sit down with Naomi, she’s a remarkable person in the sport, she’s a social figure, very active in the Black Lives Matter movement.”
“There needs to be a conversation … with her manager, I don’t understand why it’s gone this far.”
Tracey Holmes wrote for ABC news: “By slamming Osaka for her hard stand, is the media not proving the point Osaka made in her statement about “kicking a person while they are down”?
Holmes further said: “Overwhelmingly the reaction has been to attack her without knowing if she is suffering pressure overload, without knowing whether she is seeing a counsellor because she is suffering mental health issues, and without considering the much bigger picture than a post-match interview at a single tournament.”
If media claims that Osaka is earning big bucks because they (the mediapersons) highlight her, can’t Osaka turn back and say that the same journalists owe their livelihoods to her?
Osaka could be given the concession of not speaking to media and she wanting to protect her “mental health”, because from the French Open she will go to Wimbledon and then to the Tokyo Olympics where she is one of prominent faces of the hosts.
Tracey Holmes summed up the pressure on Osaka: “She is representing the host nation at the biggest show on earth for a population that overwhelmingly do not want the games to proceed this July.”
So, is it unfair to let Osaka have her way, at least this time?