11 July 2024

Naomi Osaka’s decision to boycott press conferences at Roland Garros was blasted as a “phenomenal error” by the head of French tennis on Thursday who said the Japanese star’s move was “unacceptable”.

World number two and four-times Grand Slam champion Osaka said she will not take part in any media duties at the French Open which starts on Sunday. The 23-year-old said she was concerned by the effect of news conferences on her mental health which she likened to “kicking a person while they’re down”.

However, French Tennis Federation (FFT) president Gilles Moretton lambasted Osaka, a four-time major winner.

“It is a phenomenal error and it shows to what extent it is necessary to have strong governance,” he said.

“What is happening is not, in my opinion, acceptable. It is tennis we want to promote.”

Osaka will likely be fined up to $20,000 for every news conference she skips. However, that will cause little financial impact, in 2020, she made $37 million, more than any other female athlete.

Osaka said she will donate any fines to mental health charities. “I have 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 said on Twitter.

“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 am not going to subject myself to people who doubt me.”

Osaka 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 press conference in 2015.

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

Under tennis tournament rules, all players are required to hold press conferences after each match. They also perform media duties before a tournament.

Osaka regularly packs out media rooms because of her standing in the sport and her charisma. She fields questions in Japanese and English and is regarded as one of the world’s most marketable stars.

She added on Wednesday: “I believe the whole situation (of news conferences) is kicking a person while they are down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.”

French Open tournament director Guy Forget said he was stunned by Osaka’s decision which he found at odds with a tournament still facing organizational challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic.

“As the tournament progresses, we will see how she behaves. I don’t know what her attitude will be in the coming days, but it doesn’t send a very positive message,” said Forget.

Meanwhile, world number one Ashleigh Barty said that she will not be following closest rival Naomi Osaka in boycotting French Open press conferences, insisting talking to media is “kind of part of the job”.

“We know what we sign up for as professional tennis players,” the 25-year-old Australian said.

“I can’t really comment on what Naomi is feeling or her decisions she makes. At times press conferences are hard of course but it’s also not something that bothers me.

“I’ve never had problems answering questions. It’s not something that’s ever fazed me too much. And it certainly doesn’t keep me up at night what I say and hear or what you guys ask me.”

by AFP and Reuters