Osaka to skip press conferences as reporters 'have no regard for athletes' mental health'

Filed on May 27, 2021
Japan's Naomi Osaka celebrates with the trophy after winning her final match against Jennifer Brady at the Australian Open. (Reuters file)

Players can be fined up to $20,000 for skipping a media conference at Grand Slams

Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka on Wednesday said she will not take questions from the press at this year’s French Open, saying the nature of news conferences puts an undue burden on players’ mental health.

Players can be fined up to $20,000 for skipping a media conference at Grand Slams and Osaka said she hoped the ‘considerable amount’ that she expected to be fined would go towards a mental health charity.

“I’m writing this to say I’m not going to do any press during Roland Garros,” the Japanese world number two wrote on Twitter.

“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.”

Expecting players to answer questions after losses amounted to “kicking a person while they’re down”, Osaka added.

Osaka, 23, made headlines this week when sports business website Sportico reported she had earned $55.2 million over the past 12 months, a record haul for a female athlete.

French Open qualifiers are underway with the main draw set to start from Sunday at Roland Garros with the final scheduled on June 13.

The claycourt Grand Slam has never been a happy hunting ground for Osaka, who skipped the event last year amid the Covid-19 pandemic. She has not gone past the third round in her four appearances.

World governing body International Tennis Federation and the WTA Tour did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The French tennis federation FFT, which organises the major, told Reuters it would make “no comment for now”.

“As a sponsor, we respect the feelings and will of the athletes,” Japanese instant noodle-maker Nissin, one of Osaka’s top sponsors, said in a statement sent to Reuters.

“However, we are not in a position to comment on their individual opinions and actions, so we will refrain from doing so.”

A spokeswoman for Japanese car manufacturer Nissan Motor said it had no comment while an All Nippon Airways spokesman declined to comment. Osaka’s other sponsors did not respond to requests for comment.

Osaka, a former world number one, said the decision was “nothing personal” against the tournament and noted she had a friendly relationship with many of the tour’s journalists. She hoped tournaments would reconsider their approach.

She later tweeted a video of former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch famously repeating the line “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”, at a pre-Super Bowl news conference in 2015.

Osaka has in the past used her platform and considerable press attention to highlight issues of police violence and racial inequality.

American Christian Harrison was fined $3,000 by the ATP after refusing to take part in a mandatory on-court interview at the Delray Beach Open in January amid a dispute over mask wearing.

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