The heavyweights of the four grand slam tennis tournaments have lost the public relations battle they have been engaged in over Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open.Â
Having gone down in straight sets, they then failed to show up at the media conference.
The message is confusing. At one point it says mental health “deserves our utmost attention”, while at another it rams home that well-worn sports governance line about ensuring “no player has an unfair advantage over another”.
Osaka’s chronic anxiety and sustained periods of depression do not speak of a person either having or seeking an advantage.
Rather, they speak of someone who is at a clear disadvantage, playing a sport governed by officials who seem anchored to a past era in which the “one size fits all”Â policy remains the bedrock of their management style.
The tournament organisers refer to “rules and regulations”Â being necessary to create a level-playing field.
What the world knows now âÂ across a whole variety of sectorsÂ âÂ is that the level playing field is, firstly, a myth.
Secondly, even if it could be established, it is not always the case that those looking to game the system need to be brought into line, but often it is that some assistance needs to be offered to those who endeavour to reach this so called “level”Â space despite their personal challenges.
What Osaka sought before the tournament began was understanding of her private battle, which she agreed to discuss following the tournament.
After declining to attend her post-match media conference inÂ round one, she was threatened that another episode would result in a breach of the rules. She was warned that could lead to suspension from grand slam tournaments, despite the fact the behaviour policy was previously thought to specifically relate to “on-court behaviour”.
Osaka took control of her own destiny and withdrew.
She also revealed publicly the extent to which she suffers, resulting in a multitude of reporters rewriting history as concerned, empathetic columns started appearing as they noticed the public relations tide was against them.
But the bigwigs who write and control the rules have still not fronted to face scrutiny themselves.
If they are so concerned about their sport being “fair, regardless of ranking or status”Â as they state, then why haven’t they fronted up?
Tennis officials almost silent
French Tennis Federation presidentÂ Gilles MorettonÂ held a media conference in Paris on Monday (local time) that involved reading a statement and taking no questions.
Maybe from the start if they permitted that as an option for Osaka, she would still be playing in his event.
The other presidentsÂ â Tennis Australia’s Jayne Hrdlicka, the United States Tennis Association’s Michael J McNulty IIIÂ andÂ the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club’s Ian Hewitt âÂ have been unsighted and unheard.
Calls and emails to the grand slam tournament organisers requesting interviews have gone largely unanswered.
An SMS response from one grand slam tournament media manager suggested any interviews were unlikely.
Why is that?
Why do sports officials get the opportunity to pick and choose when they front up and when they do not?
Why do they get to choose who they will speak to and who they won’t?
Why can’t players have the same options?
According to the rules, a player must attend post-match press conferences or risk financial penalty.Â There are no excuses, as this week has shown us.
Should sports officials also be penalised financially for not fronting up when an issue of their doing is under the spotlight?
As many news reports have stated this week with regard to players, they should front up to answer media questions because ‘that’s why they earn the big bucks’.
Surely the same can be said of those in charge.
If that’s not the case, and the rules are simply not fit for purpose, then perhaps its time to change them for everyone âÂ regardless of rank or status.