Ever since tennis star Naomi Osaka revealed that she would not partake in the customary post-match interviews at the French Open, she has received a lot of support from fans and other athletes. She did not, however, receive the same support from the organizers of the French Open, who were adamant about her taking part in the post-match interview. Osaka cited deteriorating mental health as the reason for not attending the press conferences, and she has even pulled out of the clay-court Grand Slam and put her Wimbledon participation in doubt over the same reason. Several Indian athletes across various sports have expressed their support towards Osaka, stating that it was about time that people took notice of athletes’ mental health.
Olympian and boxer Vijender Singh spoke out in favor of Osaka, stating that athletes should not be punished for making their own choices, especially if it relates to their well-being. “I believe Osaka did the right thing by valuing her mental well-being above all else. When you are on a pedestal in your career, money doesn’t matter, you do. We need more focus on mental health. Even in my sport, we have a dedicated physiotherapist but there are no resources for our mental wellbeing,” the boxer said.
Cricket world cup winner and Indian legend Harbhajan Singh said that he had a similar experience during the 2011 ICC cricket World Cup, where he was often pressurized by fans to do well. “During the 2011 ICC World Cup, wherever we went, from airport to hotel lobby, everyone was like ‘Sir jeetna hai, is baar to cup jeetna hai’. There was so much pressure that we could not do anything. You try not reading the newspaper or the stuff on social media and not watching the TV, but you can’t ignore the fact that there’s pressure. And if you fail, there are lakhs of opinions about you,” the off-spinner said.
He also said that one can judge a sportsperson by their performances, however, the decision to play or not play completely rested with the person. “Last year, I opted out of the Indian Premier League because I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. My family is my priority, especially during the Covid scenario. I wouldn’t have been in the right mental space to show my best game had I left my family at such a time to go play. We have to make the decision based on what’s important for us, and maybe Osaka doesn’t see tennis as her priority for the time being. People need to respect it,” he added.
Meanwhile, former Indian cricketer Mohammad Kaif tweeted, “It’s high time we acknowledge the issue of mental health in sports. More so in individual sports. Let’s be sensitive, players in their weak moments should be allowed to avoid media.”