The Women’s Tennis Association said it would welcome dialogue with world No. 2 Naomi Osaka over her decision to boycott news conferences at this year’s French Open.
Osaka, who said the nature of questions can impact on players’ mental wellbeing, has received support from several athletes but was slammed by the French Tennis Federation for her stance.
After American great Serena Williams, Osaka commands the highest profile of any female tennis player and her decision has left the WTA in an awkward position.
“Mental health is of the utmost importance to the WTA and for that matter, every individual person,” the organization said in a statement on Friday. “We have a team of professionals and a support system in place that look after our athletes’ mental and emotional health and well-being.
“The WTA welcomes a dialogue with Naomi (and all players) to discuss possible approaches that can help support an athlete as they manage any concerns related to mental health.”
However, it stressed that it also had responsibilities to the fans and public, adding: “Professional athletes have a responsibility to their sport and their fans to speak to the media surrounding their competition, allowing them the opportunity to share their perspective and tell their story.”
Retired Formula One champion Nico Rosberg, former tennis player Zina Garrison and British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith have voiced their support to Osaka, although men’s world No. 1 Novak Djokovic says that post-match press conference, while unpleasant, are part of the job.
“It’s not something that you enjoy, always, you know, especially if you lose a match or something like this,” Djokovic said. “But it’s part of the sport and part of life on the tour. This is something we have to do, otherwise, we will get fined.”
FFT President Gilles Moretton described Osaka’s action as a “phenomenal mistake”.
“What is happening there is, in my opinion, not acceptable. We will stick to the laws and rules for penalties and fines,” he said.
According to the Grand Slam rule book, players can be fined up to $20,000 for skipping a media conference but Osaka said she was ready to accept any sanction.
Osaka hoped the “considerable amount” that she expected to forfeit would go towards a mental health charity.
“I’m writing this to say I’m not going to do any press during Roland Garros,” Osaka, who lives in the U.S., wrote on Twitter. “I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health, and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” she added.
“We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before, and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”
Osaka, who according to sports business website Sportico earned $55.2 million over the past 12 months, has in the past used her platform and considerable press attention to highlight issues of police violence and racial inequality.