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_Inactive
Cher_Inactive Posts: 4,414

Scope community team

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 I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.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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Comments

  • mikehughescq
    mikehughescq Member Posts: 7,445 Disability Gamechanger
    - appalling lack of insight by the organisers.
    - yes.
    - yes.
  • woodbine
    woodbine Community Co-Production Group Posts: 5,256 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.
    Offering PIP advice to people with epilepsy.
  • Ross_Scope
    Ross_Scope Posts: 4,912

    Scope community team

    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 Co-Production Group Posts: 5,256 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.
    Offering PIP advice to people with epilepsy.
  • mikehughescq
    mikehughescq Member Posts: 7,445 Disability Gamechanger
    Hmm, is it really the case that the banal, cliche ridden, inane events that pass for interviews generate ticket sales? I think not. Ditto the income from media coverage. That’s coming in because of the event itself not the circus around it. It’s not really about either. It’s about having control over the messaging coming out of your event. A form of coercive control where no-one can damage your brand because you have an iron grip on every aspect of it.

    The argument that people have some element of choice in every contract is a long disproven myth too. People sign inappropriate and one-sided contracts all the time. That’s even worse where you have a monopoly such as you have in tennis. If you want a tennis career you sign regardless of whether you want the bad that comes with the good. 

    It must be remembered too that players don’t sign up as a pro when they’re number one. They sign up when they have literally no ranking at all so they have no real inkling of the extent to which a part of the contract which at the outset looks nothing can become overwhelming.
  • woodbine
    woodbine Community Co-Production Group Posts: 5,256 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.
    Offering PIP advice to people with epilepsy.
  • mikehughescq
    mikehughescq Member Posts: 7,445 Disability Gamechanger
    I refuse to accept that having more money than other people is relevant to good mental health or indeed any form of health and I’m afraid you’re avoiding some very stark and indisputable facts here.

    Do you know what her ranking was in the world was when she turned pro? It was zero and she was aged 15. Let’s think about that for a second. She was 15 and yet, because it’s pro sport, none of the safeguarding rules normally in place for a child of that age applied. 

    Her family moved to the USA when she was 3 with the explicit intention of training a tennis player. I used the phrase earlier. “Coercive control”. There is simply no way her parents were not going to sign the WTA contract on her behalf and no way at 15 she would have known any element of it beyond tournament commitment and possible prize monies. 

    So yes, you can most definitely be told that she did not know what she was being signed up for aged 15.
  • outlaw666
    outlaw666 Member Posts: 13 Connected
    I did not know she was Disabled ...she is very good . 

  • [Deleted User]
    [Deleted User] Posts: 0 Listener
    edited June 5
    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.
  • mikehughescq
    mikehughescq Member Posts: 7,445 Disability Gamechanger
    Are you seriously suggesting that the tennis industry would fall to pieces without… press conferences? That’s what we’re talking about here. Compulsory attendance at press conferences. The vast majority are either not broadcast; are broadcast on tennis only channels or small clips sold to mainstream TV for fairly small amounts of money. 

    She refused to do a press conference. If every player refused to do a press conference  at Wimbledon then they would just show… more tennis. 
  • [Deleted User]
    [Deleted User] Posts: 0 Listener
    edited June 5
    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..
  • mikehughescq
    mikehughescq Member Posts: 7,445 Disability Gamechanger
    What on earth have reasonable adjustments got to do with any of this? It seems to me you’ve come on here looking for some fights and making up bizarre arguments as you go along to justify that. Please don’t. 

    1 - she’s a foreign national so EA10 RAs are irrelevant here. 

    2 - let’s assume for a moment there was some parallel/analogy. In fact she’s not asked for a RA. She has argued that her contract is onerous and thus unenforceable. 

    3 - she’s a tennis player. She’s not part of a team. This is a contractual issue with the WTA.

    4 - in most team sports there is no requirement for every team member to make public appearances after every game in every tournament. The obligation is on the tram to put “someone” forward each time. Not the whole team and not the sane keratin again abd again to the detriment of their mental health. So the idea that a sport or a club would suffer financially in the absence of one person doing that is abject nonsense.

    5 - it’s not her sponsors requiring her to do this. Nor is it even the tournament. It’s an organisation to which she was signed up when she was 15 and earning zero. Their explicit purpose is allegedly to protect the interests of their members. Instead they have damaged her mental health. It’s coercive control and a safeguarding issue really.
  • woodbine
    woodbine Community Co-Production Group Posts: 5,256 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.
    Offering PIP advice to people with epilepsy.
  • mikehughescq
    mikehughescq Member Posts: 7,445 Disability Gamechanger
    I’ll say it again. She was 15. Her parents signed it.

    Heaven help us all if we were held to anything we did at 15.

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