Tennis icon Billie Jean King says she is ‘torn’ over Naomi Osaka’s decision not to speak to the press during the French Open.
The world No 2 announced before the Grand Slam that she was not going to be talking to the media to protect her mental health and, following her first round win on Sunday, she stayed true to her word and didn’t attend her post-match press conference.
The 23-year-old was fined an initial £10,800 for her refusal to do a press conference either before or after her first-round win yesterday at Roland-Garros.
Naomi Osaka has been fined after refusing to do her pre and post match press conferences
Tennis legend Billie Jean King says she is torn over the decision by Osaka to boycott the media
Osaka has been warned there could be further sanctions if she continues with her current stance, which could include being thrown out of the tournament altogether.
King who won 12 Grand Slam titles between 1966 and 1975, said that players had the right to ‘speak their truth’ but also believes there is a ‘responsibility’ to speak to the media.
In a statement posted on social media, she said: ‘I fully admire and respect what Naomi is doing with her platform, so I am a little torn as I try to learn from both sides of the situation.
‘While it’s important that everyone has the right to speak their truth, I have always believed that as professional athletes we have a responsibility to make ourselves available to the media.
‘In our day, without the press, nobody would have known who we are or what we thought. There is no question they helped build and grow our sport to what it is today.’
And she added: ‘I acknowledge things are very different now with social media and everyone having an immediate ability to speak their truth.
Naomi Osaka won her first round match but has been threatened to be thrown out of the French Open
‘The media still play an important role in telling our story. There is no question that the media needs to respect certain boundaries.
‘But at the end of the day it is important that we respect each other and we are in this together.’
Osaka did give an brief on-court interview after her straight-sets win over Patricia Maria Tig, saying: “I am really glad that I won. Hopefully I will keep it going.”
King is known for using her platform to advocate for social justice and equality, and she was a part of the ‘Original Nine’ who founded the first ever professional women’s tour.
After refusing to do a press conference before or after her match, the four Grand Slams threatened to throw her out of the biggest tournaments of the year, in addition to her fine.
Wimbledon were among the signatories to a statement which left no doubt that they are prepared to escalate the matter to the ‘Major Offence’ category — which carries with it the potential sanction of outright disqualification.
The statement read: ‘The Roland-Garros teams asked her to reconsider her position and tried unsuccessfully to speak with her to check on her well-being, understand the specifics of her issue and what might be done to address it on site.
‘Following the lack of engagement by Naomi Osaka, the Australian Open, Roland-Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open jointly wrote to her to check on her well-being and offer support, underline their commitment to all athletes’ well-being and suggest dialogue on the issues. She was also reminded of her obligations, the consequences of not meeting them and that rules should equally apply to all players.
‘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 a sport, there is nothing more important than ensuring no player has an unfair advantage over another, which unfortunately is the case in this situation, if one player refuses to dedicate time to participate in media commitments while the others all honour their commitments.’
Osaka did not immediately respond, although she tweeted last night: ‘Anger is a lack of understanding. Change makes people uncomfortable.’
Her sister, Mari, backtracked after attempting to defend the Japanese star for refusing to attend press conferences.
In her first online post, Mari, 25, revealed a comment from a family member had an adverse effect on Naomi and added extra detail as to why her younger sister would not be fulfilling her media commitments at Roland Garros.
Osaka’s sister Mari (R) attempted to defend her sister and her decision to boycott the press
Mari backtracked on her original Reddit post following an angry reaction from users online
‘Naomi mentioned to me before the tournament that a family member had come up to her and remarked that she’s bad at clay. At every press conference she’s told she’s has a bad record on clay,’ Mari wrote.
‘When she lost in Rome she was not OK mentally. Her confidence was completely shattered and I think that everyone’s remarks and opinions have gotten to her head and she herself believed that she was bad on clay.
‘This isn’t true and she knows that in order to do well and have a shot at winning Roland Garros she will have to believe that she can. That’s the first step any athlete needs to do, believe in themselves.
‘So her solution was to block everything out. No talking to people who is (sic) going to put doubt in her mind. She’s protecting her mind hence why it’s called mental health.
‘So many people are picky on this term thinking you need to have depression or have some sort of disorder to be able to use the term mental health.
‘I don’t know what she is going to do in the future when the tournament pushes back and threatens to default her but I fully support my sister’s actions because she’s just trying to do what’s best for her. Tennis players don’t get paid to do press conferences. They only get paid when they win matches.’
However, Mari later deleted the post and uploaded a new statement, saying she had made the situation worse following a reaction from users online.
‘OK so I f***** up. My words are coming across so horribly to a lot of people who think taking care of mental health is strategic,’ Mari wrote.
‘I didn’t emphasise the fact that Naomi is dealing with a ton of s*** and honestly fighting for the care of mental health in my post so now a lot of people are taking it as “She doesn’t want to hear criticism”.
‘I’m sorry Naomi I probably made the situation worse.’