After Naomi Osaka’s first round exit during Wimbledon 2019, the Japanese tennis star, bidding to win her third Slam then, broke down. She cut short her post-match press conference by telling the press corps that she felt like crying. Anybody who has followed the career of Osaka—already one of the most successful active women’s players with four Slams to her name—will know that she is a shy person, who is ‘most awkward’, according to herself. So it wasn’t really a surprise to read Osaka’s pre-French Open tournament statement about ‘boycotting’ the media. It was, to paraphrase her statement, a move to safeguard her mental health. That was criticised by some, including players, media and the Slams. The four Slams got together, threatening to expel the Japanese from future Majors if she continued her boycott. On Monday, Osaka withdrew from Roland Garros as she didn’t want this issue to become a big distraction.
Keeping aside everything else, the 23-yearold’s decision needs to be respected. Even if Osaka may have slightly erred in releasing a pre-tournament statement—she could have quietly gone about her way without fulfilling her media obligations (each such infringement will invite a $15,000 fine) till she felt okay. The tennis fraternity and the wider sporting world could have respected the decision of someone who has fought against racial injustice in her still fledgling career.
The focus is back on mental health. On the one hand there are legends who can face the media whatever the occasion is, while there are others who are reluctant to join an interaction. Here in Slams, it’s part of a deal where professional players make an earning. Osaka too alluded to that saying there are certain rules that need to be revisited. Of late, mental health has become a serious issue in sports. Stars too are humans and can suffer. At the same time, a controlled media interaction will lose its very sanctity. Going forward, there has to be a better acknowledgement about issues surrounding mental health and the media’s role in being unwitting participants. Because, ultimately, nobody wins here.