Naomi Osaka could end up being banned from the French Open and even Wimbledon if she continues her refusal to carry out media duties.
In a surprisingly uncompromising and forthright move, the US and Australian Open champion was warned by the four Grand Slams that she is risking more than just fines with her current stance.
World No 2 Osaka 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 could be thrown out of the French Open if she refuses to speak to the media
Osaka agreed to do her on-court interview after beating Patricia Maria Tig in the first round but was then fined $15,000 (£10,500) for refusing to attend her post-match press conference
This followed her declaration that she would no longer be co-operating with interview requests as she feels it is injurious to her mental health.
She added that she would suffer the repeat fines involved, which are easily swallowed by someone estimated to have earned nearly £40million last year, mainly from Japanese and global sponsors.
Last night, however, the four Grand Slams united to effectively call her bluff — threatening to throw her out of the biggest tournaments of the year, in addition to making a small dent in her pocket.
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.
There is clearly irritation at the way Osaka and her advisers have gone about presenting her stance, with references to an apparent lack of communication.
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.
Osaka edged past Romanian Tig (above) with a 6-4 7-6 (4) victory on Sunday morning
‘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.’
Being banned from the Grand Slams would most likely have a significant knock-on effect on Osaka’s endorsements. Written into most contracts is the agreement that the player will participate in the sport’s most widely viewed events.
Osaka’s first-round match was scheduled for 11am yesterday, hardly a time most stars would wish to play. She came through it relatively comfortably, winning 6-4, 7-6 against unheralded Romanian Patricia Maria Tig.
Osaka released a statement earlier this week saying she would boycott the press at the French Open, citing mental health concerns as the reason behind her decision
She did manage a brief on-court interview immediately afterwards, during which she answered a few anodyne questions. ‘I’d say it is a work-in-progress,’ she said of her clay-court game. ‘Hopefully the more I play, the better I get. If I play more matches, then hopefully I will get better.’
However, she did not then attend a press conference. We wait to see if the growing pressure on her will lead to a change of mind when she plays her second-round match on Wednesday.
It is not just the game’s authorities who appear to have little sympathy with her but other players as well, who accept that interviews are part of the whole ecosystem of the pro game.
Double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova reflected this weekend on having to talk about being stabbed in late 2016 by an intruder in her apartment, all in her second language.
‘I really didn’t get it,’ she said, about Osaka’s stance. Of the experience of fielding questions about her trauma, she added: ‘It was very difficult, to be honest. On the other hand, I was kind of proud afterwards that I had done it.
‘I thought it would be probably just once to talk about it, but of course I did it many times afterwards. With time it’s much better.’
THE STATEMENT IN FULL
Last Wednesday on social media that she would not participate in the mandatory media interviews at Roland-Garros 2021.
Following this announcement, 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 dialog 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.
Naomi Osaka today chose not to honour her contractual media obligations. The Roland-Garros referee has therefore issued her a $15,000 fine, in keeping with article III H. of the Code of Conduct.
The mental health of players competing in our tournaments and on the Tours is of the utmost importance to the Grand Slams.
We individually and collectively have significant resources dedicated to player well-being. In order to continue to improve however, we need engagement from the players to understand their perspective and find ways to improve their experiences. Every year we seek to deliver better experiences to our fans, our players and our people, and we have a long and successful track record in achievement on this count.
A core element of the Grand Slam regulations is the responsibility of the players to engage with the media, whatever the result of their match, a responsibility which players take for the benefit of the sport, the fans and for themselves. These interactions allow both the players and the media to share their perspective and for the players to tell their story. The facilitation of media to a broad array of channels, both traditional and digital, is a major contributor to the development and growth of our sport and the fan base of individual players.
We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences. As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament (Code of Conduct article III T.) and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions (Code of Conduct article IV A.3.).
We want to underline that rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement. 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.
Finally, all Grand Slams remain committed to continually reviewing and discussing opportunities, together with the Tours and the players, to improve every aspect of the player experience, including with the media. But we consider this is only ever achieved through respectful and constructive discussions.
*The statement was made on behalf of; Jayne Hrdlicka, Tennis Australia Chair & PresidentGilles Moretton, FFT President, Ian Hewitt, AELTC Chairman and Mike McNulty, USTA Chairman of the Board & President