Naomi Osaka, the world number two in the tennis women’s rankings and four-time Grand Slam winner, has had to pull out of the French Open owing to ‘mental health’ issues. As the world’s ‘most valuable’ female athlete, her decision has sent shock waves through tennis circles. It has drawn attention to a critical aspect of the highly competitive world of professional sports. Also, the fine imposed on her by the Roland Garros administration for not attending a ‘mandatory’ press conference after her first round win has come under fire for its insensitivity, particularly towards women.
Like so many aspects of present day life, it is big money that is dictating terms and not governments. (This has been very evident in the spats mega-corporations like Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, etc., have been having with national governments on following local laws. In fact, some are accused of even interfering in politics in various ways to destabilise these governments.) There is absolutely no doubt that the commercialisation of sports has brought immense benefits to players right down to the grassroots, but in the process the spirit of the game seems to have been lost. Professional managements and association bosses take the earnings so much for granted that they almost seem to consider the sportspersons marginal to the game! Quite obviously, this needs to be corrected. It should be ensured that there are a sufficient number of former sportspersons involved in the management of tournaments and associations so that this distortion is averted. (This problem is even more visible in Indian sports associations, even before most of them have even begun to make money!)
Of course, one Naomi will not be able to take on the entire tennis establishment, but the spectators, who actually pay for the game – either directly or by consuming products advertised at the events – should make their opinion known. Of what use is excellence at a sport if it leads to unbearable psychological stress? About time the required attention is paid to this aspect, so that sports remain fun and do not become gladiatorial combat.
Also, the media needs to question its approach. Why have press conferences become so unpleasant that even those who thrive on public attention would want to avoid them? Naomi has spoken of how losing a game can become many times a worse experience because of the nastiness of the press. This toxicity needs to be eliminated for the betterment of sports; otherwise it does not take much for everything to go suddenly downhill!