Sportswear company Nike has issued a statement of support for tennis star Naomi Osaka after she made the groundbreaking decision to withdraw from the 2021 French Open. The brand’s allyship also comes days after Osaka refused to participate in post-match press conferences for her mental health caused controversy in sports and media.
“Our thoughts are with Naomi. We support her and recognize her courage in sharing her own mental health experience,” Nike said according to CNN.
Osaka dropped out of the competition on May 31, after winning her first match at Roland Garros, a formal name to reference the tournament. The day before her exit, she was fined $15,000 for refusing to participate in interviews following her games and threatened with suspension from future tournaments.
“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,” said Roland Garros in a statement.
“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.”
In her announcement, Osaka revealed her decision was not meant to be a distraction, and that since winning her first Grand Slam title in 2018 she has experienced mental health issues.
“I think the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris,” she wrote and shared on social media.
She continued, “I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer.”
Mastercard and Swiss luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer, two of Osaka’s other sponsors, have also issued statements supporting the 23-year-old’s decision.
“Naomi Osaka’s decision reminds us all how important it is to prioritize personal health and well-being,” Mastercard said in a statement. “We support her and admire her courage to address important issues, both on and off the court.”
“Naomi is going through difficult times and we truly hope to see her back soon. She is a great champion and we are convinced that she will come out of this period stronger, be it professionally or personally,” read a statement from TAG Heuer.
Japanese companies Nissin Foods, All Nippon Airways, and Nissan also stood with the superstar with statements of solidarity.
“We support the right of our ambassadors to express themselves and stand by her decision,” added Nissan.
According to ESPN, leaders of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments have pledged to create change following Osaka’s withdrawal and statements surrounding her mental health and the manner in which athletes are treated.
“On behalf of the Grand Slams, we wish to offer Naomi Osaka our support and assistance in any way possible as she takes time away from the court. She is an exceptional athlete and we look forward to her return as soon as she deems appropriate,” said the statement from those in charge of the French Open, Wimbledon, US Open, and Australian Open.
The statement continued, “Mental health is a very challenging issue, which deserves our utmost attention. It is both complex and personal, as what affects one individual does not necessarily affect another. We commend Naomi for sharing in her own words the pressures and anxieties she is feeling and we empathize with the unique pressures tennis players may face.”
International Tennis Federation official Heather Bowler said the sport will “review what needs to evolve” after Osaka “shone a light on mental health issues,” in a separate statement.
“It’s in all our interests to ensure that we continue to provide a respectful and qualitative environment that enables all stakeholders to do their job to their best ability, without impacting their health, and for the good of the sport.”