Osaka's withdrawal from the French Open: an example of discrimination against disabled people? — Scope | Disability forum
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Osaka's withdrawal from the French Open: an example of discrimination against disabled people?

Cher_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 5,741 Disability Gamechanger

Naomi Osaka, World Women's tennis number 2, has featured heavily in this week's news as word spread about her departure from the French Open.  Today we ask, what did her story reveal about society's treatment of disabled people in general?

A tennis racket with a ball bouncing off it

Japan's Osaka issued a statement this Monday (31 May 2021) in response to being fined $15,000 (£10,570) for not participating in post-match media after her opening match. 

In response to the Grand Slam organisers' threat that she could face tournament expulsion if she continued to avoid speaking to the press, she said:
This isn't a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago. I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my wellbeing is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris.  

I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly, I would never trivialise mental health or use the term lightly.  The truth is I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that.

Anyone that knows me knows I am introverted and anyone that has seen me at tournaments will notice that I'm often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety.  Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I want to apologise to all the cool journalists who I may have hurt), I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media.  I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can.

So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious, so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences. I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.  I wrote privately to the tournament apologising and saying that I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament as the Slams are intense. 

I'm going to take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans."

Her decision has been overwhelmingly met with support from peers who applauded her decision to prioritise her mental health.  While, the organisers sanctions, intended to punish Osaka for impairment-related difficulties, have received much critique - condemned for valuing media promotion over individual wellbeing.  

For many who are disabled, links between this high-profile case and the everyday denial of disabled people's 'reasonable adjustment' requests in the workplace are clear.  The Independent's Williamson writes:

A massive 70 million work days are lost every year to mental ill-health in the UK alone, costing employers around £2.4bn annually. A compassionate and open approach towards making reasonable adjustments in the workplace is urgently needed as part of a strategy for change.

Over to you:

  • What did you think to the Grand slam organisers' handling of Osaka?
  • Do you think she did the right thing in withdrawing?
  • Have you ever had a reasonable adjustment request turned down?
Let us know in the comments below :)
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  • woodbine
    woodbine Community member Posts: 10,458 Disability Gamechanger
    These players sign a contract before they appear in these contest and that contract includes media duties because they get paid even if they get knocked out in the first round, if they don't want the media contact then they should refuse to enter the contest and kiss good bye to the obscene amounts they get for winning.
    Seasons greetings to one and all 🎄🎅🏻🌲
  • Ross_Alumni
    Ross_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 7,652 Disability Gamechanger
    I appreciate your point @woodbine and in some situations, in some sports, it does come across as though people are trying to wash their hands of their contracted responsibilities. However when it comes to mental health, I think that flexibility from the organisers and media is essential. 

    As we all know, mental health can be unpredictable and change over a short period of time. When she commited to playing in this tournament she may have felt fine about doing press conferences, but a change in her state of mental health and well-being may have occurred in the time since. I think that needs to factor more into the thinking of event organisers and the media alike.
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  • woodbine
    woodbine Community member Posts: 10,458 Disability Gamechanger
    Take your point Ross, but the French open like all the grand slams rely on two things ticket sales and media coverage income without a mix of both they would probably not exist in their current format.
    Seasons greetings to one and all 🎄🎅🏻🌲
  • woodbine
    woodbine Community member Posts: 10,458 Disability Gamechanger
    Sounds like we will have to agree to differ Mike. These people earn if successful mega amounts of money in some cases they have become multi millionaires despite having to pay a team of 7 or 8 people 365 days of the year.
    Yes tennis like many sports has become a circus and a media feeding ground but thats nothing new it's been like that for decades now.
    I have some sympathy with Osaka, but no one can tell me she didn't know what she was signing up for, I hope she takes some time away from the game but I suspect she will put in an appearance at SW19.
    Seasons greetings to one and all 🎄🎅🏻🌲
  • outlaw666
    outlaw666 Community member Posts: 13 Connected
    I did not know she was Disabled ...she is very good . 

  • [Deleted User]
    [Deleted User] Posts: 0 Listener
    edited June 2021
    But how will the sports industry like tennis manage to make money if they never had media coverage? The media drives ticket sales, not the other way round. Some people pay the media to cover their events in product placement. They would have to rethink and change their business model.
  • [Deleted User]
    [Deleted User] Posts: 0 Listener
    edited June 2021
    It's not that simple. The difference between someone working in a minimum wage job (eg. a call centre) being given a reasonable adjustment to not to do public appearances, speak to the media or appear on camera based on their disability, and a sports person doing professional sports who refuses to speak to the media based on their disability (ie. anxiety) who asks for a reasonable adjustment, is that in professional sports, one sports player can be brought by a sports team for $1 million or more.

    You say that tennis will still exist commercially if every player refused to do press conference. Well consider this. No company involved in professional sports is going to pay over $1 million in advance to hire one person, and then agree to such a request, given the high amount of money they paid to hire them in the first place, even before they've done any work..
  • woodbine
    woodbine Community member Posts: 10,458 Disability Gamechanger
    At the end of the day she signed a contract with whoever whenever part of that contract obliged her to do media interviews, she refused they fined her, she still refused and wasn't prepared to fulfil her contract so she walked.
    If the game and all it entails is so bad for her mental health then the best course of action she can take is to put her health before her wealth and retire from the game.
    Simple really.
    I wish her well.
    Seasons greetings to one and all 🎄🎅🏻🌲


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