The French Open is enjoying more coverage internationally than it has had for years even with Naomi Osaka’s mouth firmly closed.
As evidenced by her appearances at the US Open earlier this year, taking to court interviews wearing Black Lives Matter masks, each day with a different name of someone who had died at the hands of police, she is a thinker.
A media firestorm erupted when Osaka posted on social media last week that she wouldn’t be doing press conferences at the French Open, alluding to “mental health”.
Now, the tournament has issued an official warning suggesting “she would be exposing herself to possible further code of conduct infringement consequences” if she continues to boycott the press conference room.
Before looking at what those ‘conduct infringement’ rules actually say, here’s why Osaka said she would be making herself unavailable to the press in Paris:
“I’ve watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well,” she said in a social media post.
“I believe that whole situation is kicking a person while they’re down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.
“Me not doing press is nothing personal to the tournament and a couple of journalists have interviewed me since I was young so I have a friendly relationship with most of them.
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“However, if the organisations think they can just keep saying, ‘do press or you are going to be fined’, and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are at the centrepiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh.
“Anyways, I hope the considerable amount that I get fined for this will go towards a mental health charity.”
Many journalists took to their own social media accounts and used their columns and on-air discussions to be outraged.
It was ‘a slippery slope’, they said, ‘what if every player decided not to attend?’ But they haven’t.
She ‘only gets the big bucks’ because the media writes and talks about her because of what happens in those press conferences. There’s a pretty fair argument to mount that she wins the big bucks because she wins tournaments.
She even had the temerity, according to some, to suggest the tournament paid whatever she was fined through her non-attendance to a charity that works with mental health.
‘What about using some of her own money’, they said, ignoring the fact it is her own money, the money she is prepared to be fined each time she does not turn up.
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Some even called into question her raising the issue of mental health as though it might be an excuse.
And do they know? Or are they simply proving the point Osaka made in her statement about “kicking a person while they are down”?
Overwhelmingly the reaction has been to attack her without knowing if she is suffering pressure overload, without knowing whether she is seeing a counsellor because she is suffering mental health issues, and without considering the much bigger picture than a post-match interview at a single tournament.
Tennis players have to turn up to press conferences regardless of how often they have to answer the same questions.(Reuters: Matteo Ciambelli
Rather than Naomi only earning the big bucks because of what the media does, isn’t it the tennis media that owe their livelihoods to tennis players like Osaka?
After doing what they are paid to do  play tennis  they are mandated by the rules to sit down and speak to the media after every match no matter how repetitive and banal the questions might be.
Including in Naomi’s case the seemingly constant reminder that she’s not a good clay court player.
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In Osaka’s case, she will go from the French Open to Wimbledon and then to the Tokyo Olympics where she is one of the faces of the games.
She is representing the host nation at the biggest show on earth for a population that overwhelmingly do not want the games to proceed this July.
Try that for pressure.
When your job is to win tournaments and then win Olympic gold to help justify hosting one of the most controversial games in history, allowing a player to focus should not be an issue decided by the loudest voice in player-empty media conference room.
There is no shortage of stories to write.
Rule book doesn’t mention grand slam bans, but the ‘G4’ have
The 2021 Official Grand Slam Rule Book has a clear guide around media conferences and a player’s requirement to be there.
It is part of a section on ‘Player On-Site Offences’ (Article 3, section H):
“MEDIA CONFERENCE Unless injured and physically unable to appear, a player or team must attend the post-match media conference(s) organised immediately or within thirty (30) minutes after the conclusion of each match, including walkovers, whether the player or team was the winner or loser, unless such time is extended or otherwise modified by the referee for good cause. In addition, all main draw players must participate, if requested, in a pre-event press conference to be arranged during the two days before the start of the Main Draw. All media obligations include, but are not limited to, interviews with the host and player’s national broadcaster. Violation of this section shall subject a player to a fine up to $20,000.”
There is no other clause suggesting a constant refusal to attend would result in ‘further sanctioning’, potentially disqualification.
But tennis’s G4 French Open, Australian Open, US Open and Wimbledon have jointly written to Osaka to “check on her well-being and offer support, underline their commitment to all athletes’ well-being and suggest dialogue on the issues”.
Despite those concerns, it goes on to remind her of her obligations:
“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 and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future grand slam suspensions.”
So much for their heartfelt concerns about her mental wellbeing.
The G4 point to Article IV, A3 of the Grand Slam Rule Book for 2021.
Article IV concerns ‘Major Player Offences’.
Part A refers to ‘Aggravated Behaviour’.
Item 3 explains what that behaviour is:
“A series of two (2) or more violations of this code within a twelve (12) month period which singularly do not constitute “Aggravated Behaviour”, but when viewed together establish a pattern of conduct that is collectively egregious and is detrimental or injurious to the Grand Slam tournaments.’
Detrimental or injurious to the Grand Slam tournaments?
Talk or no talk, there’s plenty to write about
Leadership is about solving problems, not escalating them.
Despite what you’ve heard Naomi not speaking, in itself, has given journalists plenty to write about.
The former player and chief executive of the Australian Open, Paul McNamee, summed it up best on ABC News Breakfast this morning.
“Someone needs to sit down with Naomi, she’s a remarkable person in the sport, she’s a social figure, very active in the Black Lives Matter movement,” he said.
“There needs to be a conversation with her manager, I don’t understand why it’s gone this far.”
And anyway, who watches a grand slam to see Naomi Osaka talk?

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