Osaka ‘thinks she is bigger than the game’

Naomi Osaka is treading a path to expulsion if she does not change direction. Last week the world No.2 declared, for the sake of her mental health, she would not engage in any media conferences at Roland-Garros and the money she would be fined should be directed to mental health charities. She soon discovered the dollars she is fined would in fact go to the ITF Development Fund and not to any charity she would prefer.

That did not change her attitude and after her first-round match in Paris, which she won over Patricia Maria Tig of Romania 6-4, 7-6, she carried out the pre-meditated directive she announced. There were two TV requests for her, one of those with the Japanese host broadcaster WowWow as well as a post-match media conference.

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The Grand Slam committee have come down hard on Osaka and issued her with a fine for just over $19,000, but before going through with the penalty, time was taken to try and discuss the situation with the Japanese player.

She was asked to reconsider her decision, and attempts were made to check on the state of her mental health and offer whatever support might have been necessary or wanted. Tennis is fully away of the mental stress that players are under whether it be over a tension filled match or the effect COVID-19 has had on players and the sport as a whole. Osaka apparently ignored the approach and did not engage.

Post-match media commitments are mandatory. That rule was not a unilateral decision that was thrown into the rules, it was included after much discussion between the tours, the majors and the players. Media commitments add to the development and exposure of tennis, which is vital as it is with any other concern in sport and entertainment. The media attention helps to bring in the dollars that go to fund the lifestyles of the players and create jobs.

Osaka’s narrow-sightedness has not looked at the bigger picture.

The details that were given to Osaka made it plain that these were obligations that every player needs to fulfil. Instead, one got the feeling that Osaka was of the opinion that she is bigger than the game and could do what she wanted to. By also choosing to brush the attempts to speak with her, she was showing a lack of respect to the administrators of the sport.

It is a player’s responsibility to engage with the media, in whatever way a match might end. No one is suggesting it is easy to do especially after a loss, but that responsibility is of benefit to the sport, the fans and the players themselves. These situations provide a connection and allows for a story to be created and allows the public to relate to these stars of the game.

All that was like water off a duck’s back for Osaka. One wonders what her endorsement companies might think of her stand because such attention has to be seen as a negative by those paying her a lot of money, money that has made her the highest paid female athlete in the world.

The leaders of the four majors – the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open – have made it clear to her that if she continues to ignore her media obligations for the rest of Roland Garros “she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences” and could very well expect that “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”.

The rules are in place to be equal for all players; everyone is treated the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement to try and prevent someone from having an unfair advantage. Her stand does not allow for that.

The ball, as they say, is now in Naomi Osaka’s court.

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