Some questions at post-match conferences are insensitive, but a player boycott is no solution
At 23, Naomi Osaka has the tennis world at her feet. With four Grand Slam titles and now ranked second in the world, Osaka has tremendous brand equity. She also speaks her mind beyond sport, be it on racism or on her mixed lineage of being born to a Haitian father and Japanese mother while growing up in the United States. It looked as though the baton of success had passed from the great Serena Williams to Osaka. Yet, the Japanese star’s fresh halo suffered a dent with her media boycott in the current French Open at Paris. Shooting the messenger is a petulant attribute that crops up in politics, sport and the arts. Often these are impulsive reactions to a bad day at work. The odd tennis press conference was skipped in the past with Serena and Novak Djokovic being guilty of such violations. But what makes it worse for Osaka is her premeditated stance revealed through her message before the French Open: ‘I am not going to do any press during Roland Garros.’ She also juxtaposed her cold-shoulder of the media with mental-health issues, hinting that journalists tend to exacerbate the fragile minds of athletes, especially those who lost a match. In one fell swoop, Osaka ignored nuance, dished out a lame excuse and trivialised the serious issue of mental health.
In a universe where athletes prefer social-media posts over media interactions, the official press-conference is the last remaining avenue for probing questions that elicit insightful answers. Player-journalist interactions are the only substitute for source-based inferences that colour the narrative. Closer home, M.S. Dhoni revealed his international retirement through Instagram and lapsed into silence. Sports bodies have sensed this diffidence and in the cricket World Cup or a Grand Slam event, the post-match press-conference is a contractual obligation. In this era of click-bait headlines, it is not that all Fourth Estate members are perceptive. There have been instances of the odd insensitive question but the athlete can always offer a counter or stick to a ‘no-comments’ response. Osaka deciding to constantly pay a fine for not honouring her media commitments at the French Open has set a terrible precedent and it is fitting that the consortium of Grand Slams have hinted at harsher measures including ejecting her from the tournament. Besides excellence on the turf, commerce off the field equally drives sport. Corporate sponsors, who get some play through advertorial material as background screen in press-conferences, are obviously aggrieved. Legends such as Rafael Nadal have also spoken about how sport evolves through the symbiosis between athletes and the media. It is a pity that Osaka has suddenly turned blind to this reality.