With the news of Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open citing mental health issues, it is time the world gave more importance to mental health issues. World no 2, withdrew from the high profile tournament saying how she has anxiety issues and she is an introvert who has problems speaking with the media and expressing her predicament. While she has garnered support from different quarters of the world including Serena Williams who said, she knew what she may be going through, it hasn’t been exactly a smooth ride for the tennis player.
The Reaction of the French Open Organisers
The reaction of the French Open organizers is a little unexpected as instead of understanding or accomodating her they labeled her act as a phenomenal error. Instead, they could have made things better by finding a middle ground and talking about it. A one-on-one conversation between the two parties could have stopped things from getting worse.
Naomi Osaka’s Forthright Declaration
Naomi Osaka, the number 2 tennis player in the world is the sport’s most prominent ambassador. She admitted to suffering from bouts of depression since won the first Major at the 2018 US Open, as she played against Serena Williams for the final.
Roland Garros was not one of her most favorite surfaces and hence she was experiencing a heightened sense of anxiety. She needed to protect herself and decided she will go for a media boycott. This was against the tournament rules.
Before she made her second statement where she gave her reasons for quitting the tournament. The organizers warned her of graver consequences and requested her to change her stance as it would be unfair for the other players.
The Issue of Mental Health
Now, the post-match press conferences are mandatory however it isn’t big on boosting the morale of the losers. This is what Osaka had planned to bring into focus and how heightened focus on the player who is already feeling bad about a loss can make things worse for the vulnerable player.
Mental health is not as well understood as physical health. And that’s why Osaka wanted to explain how players feel when they are playing under a certain strain. Her desire to withdraw from the tournament was an act of self-care. She wanted to avoid the barrage of questions that came from the media. It is understandable that most people could buckle under such kind of tremendous pressure.
If it was a physical injury perhaps things would have been handled differently and may the player would have got help before taking on questions from the media.
Collective Conversation Leading to Many Changes
Osaka’s sister Mari Osaka and her coach Wim Fisette spoke about how the 23-year-old player was trying to bring a change in things, especially in those aspects that need attention. The relentless pursuit of media makes her feel stifled and it was a problem that was getting too overwhelming for her.
But change won’t happen overnight, rather the collective conversations beginning today will start the ball rolling as seen in the past in tennis.
Support From All Quarters
Her withdrawal from a Grand Slam has clearly been the talk of the tennis world. While mainstream news with scores of people beyond tennis offers support and condemning the organizers in the process.
The French Open incident is not an issue that calls for keyboard activism, but it should bring about a positive change in the tennis world.
Osaka Follows Simone Biles in This Regard
Osaka follows the star Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, who found herself in a similar situation in 2018 and refused to return to USA Gymnastics’ training center at the Karolyi Ranch.
The reason being she and several young athletes were mistreated by a team doctor, this led to the complete shut down of the facility. There have been similar cases where at the height of the pandemic in the United States, there have been about 500 Pac-12 Conference football players who demanded the change of health and safety protocols, only then they would agree to play.
Julie Foudy, the former Women’s Sports Foundation, a two-time Olympic champion and the ex-captain of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, said Tuesday that Osaka’s actions bring a great shift in the thought process. This coerces the governing bodies to pay greater attention to help safeguard athletes’ mental health.
Well, the way things are going, it won’t be long before there will be a time when the player’s mental health will hold as much importance as their physical health.