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Image / Agenda / Breaking Stories

‘Mental health is health’: Calm app wants to cover Naomi Osaka’s French Open fines


by Sarah Finnan
04th Jun 2021

Naomi Osaka / Instagram

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The first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles, Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka decided to withdraw from the French Open on account of her mental health.

Earlier this week, Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka announced that she would withdraw from the French Open in order to prioritise her mental health. A very brave decision to have made, the athlete was essentially forced to do so after she was penalised for choosing to forgo all press events during the tournament.

The backstory

Rebelling against obligations stating that all competitors must partake in press if they wish to compete, Osaka was fined $15,000 for her refusal. Accepting the fine in lieu of participating in the two press conferences either side of her first match, Osaka said that she hoped the money would be donated to a mental health charity on her behalf. Organisers didn’t react well to this decision, however, with the powers that be threatening “repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future grand slam suspensions”.

Dealing with depression

Leaving Osaka between a rock and a hard place, the women’s world number two ultimately decided to withdraw from the competition altogether. Sharing a poignant statement on Twitter, she announced that she’d be taking some time away from the court in order to look after her mental health.

“I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that,” she wrote. “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,” she later continued.

Public reaction

Essentially punished for choosing to mind her mental health (in a way that has little to no bearing on her actual on-court performance), the amount of public backlash the athlete has been subjected to is proof that the stigma surrounding mental health still prevails. Piers Morgan dubbed her a “brat”, comparing the move to something “straight out of the Meghan and Harry playbook” and accusing her of “exploiting the media for ruthlessly commercial self-promotion but using mental health to silence any media criticism”.

However while many condemned Osaka, countless others spoke out in support of her decision. Pro basketball player Steph Curry commended her for “taking the high road”, while Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton took aim at those criticising Osaka’s decision saying, “mental health is not a joke, this is real and serious. This takes a lot of courage to do. Let’s all make sure Naomi knows she’s not alone.”

More recently, those behind the Calm app (a popular sleep and meditation app), took to social media to stand behind the tennis star. Vowing to donate $15,000 to Laureus Sport in France – an organisation that works to transform the lives of children and young people through the power of sport – they went one step further, also promising to pay the fines for any players that wish to opt-out of 2021 Grand Slam media appearances for mental health reasons.

“This is bigger than any individual player. Calm will also pay the fine for players opting out of 2021 Grand Slam media appearances for mental health reasons, and we will match the fine with a $15,000 donation to @laureussport”, a post on Instagram stated.

Finishing by saying “mental health is just as important as physical health”, it’s clear that there’s still a long way to go before there are proper structures in place to support athletes.