TOPTokyo LifeNews & OpinionNaomi Osaka’s French Open Withdrawal Shines A Spotlight on Mental Health In Sport

Naomi Osaka’s French Open Withdrawal Shines A Spotlight on Mental Health In Sport

In this week's news roundup we look at Naomi Osaka's decision to withdraw from the French Open, more Olympic-related issues and Japan's improving vaccination drive

By Matthew Hernon

Naomi Osaka shocked the tennis world on Monday when she pulled out of the French Open. Taking to Twitter, she said she had “suffered long bouts of depression,” since her first US Open win in 2018. It is hoped that her words will lead to a more in-depth discussion about mental health in sport. The four-time Grand Slam winner added that she was going to “take some time away from the court now.” Not specifying how long that will be, her appearance at Wimbledon in four weeks time must seriously be in doubt. The same goes for the Olympics should it go ahead.

According to Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto, cancelation is now unlikely, but will there be enough volunteers? It was this week announced that around 10,000 have already pulled out. A planned public viewing site in Yoyogi, meanwhile, is set to to be used as a vaccination venue. The much derided inoculation program in Japan is slowly starting to make progress. There has been a sharp rise in the number of doses given and by mid-June vaccination vouchers will be mailed to people under 65. Also in this week’s news roundup there is Derby joy for Shahryar and a shock diagnosis for AKB48 member Yuki Kashiwagi.

Naomi Osaka Withdraws from the French Open

This story began last week when reigning US Open and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka announced she would not be attending mandatory media assignments at the French Open. Following through on her statement, she failed to show for the pre-match presser after her first-round victory over Patricia Tig. The authorities subsequently fined the Japanese-Haitian star $15,000 and threatened to disqualify her. The next day Osaka pulled out of the tournament. “This isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago,” Osaka wrote on Twitter. “I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris.” Osaka added that she is not a natural public speaker and “gets huge waves of anxiety,” when appearing in front of the world’s media.

Reaction to Osaka’s Decision

There was lots of support in the tennis world for Osaka following the decision. “I am so sad about Naomi Osaka. I truly hope she will be OK,” wrote Martina Navratilova. “Stay strong. I admire your vulnerability,” added Coco Gauff. “It’s incredibly brave that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression,” tweeted Billie Jean King. Words of encouragement also came from NBA stars Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard. Former GMTV host Piers Morgan wasn’t so sympathetic. In his Daily mail column, he described Osaka as an “arrogant spoiled brat whose fame and fortune appears to have inflated her ego to gigantic proportions.” He later defended the article on Twitter, stating: “She attacked the media for doing their jobs. As Nadal etc said this week, without media support, tennis would not be the big sport it is & the players wouldn’t be rich famous stars.”

Sheer Joy For Shahryar at Japanese Derby

In other sporting news this week, Shahryar surprised pre-race favorite Efforia to claim the 88th Japanese Derby. The latter was highly fancied having won the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) in April. It was Shahryar, though, ridden by Yuichi Fukunaga, who managed to edge out in front, winning in a photo finish. “It was extremely tight and extremely difficult race. I had hoped for a smoother run, but the colt pulled this out with his strength,” said Fukunaga. The Derby is the second of the Triple Crown races. It’s preceded by the Satsuki Sho and followed by October’s Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger). In football, Kento Hashimoto, Daichi Kamada and Takuma Asano all scored as the Japan national team defeated the Japan U24 Olympic side 3-0. Baseball coach Ken Kadokura, who was reported as a missing person in May, was this week found in a park in Yokohama.

10,000 Olympic Volunteers Have Quit But Show Likely to Go On

Around 10,000 of the 80,000 due to volunteer at this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games have pulled out. “There’s no doubt that one of the reasons is concern over coronavirus infections,”said Committee Director Toshiro Muto. Despite these concerns Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto believes the show is likely to go on. “If various countries around the world experience very serious situations and delegations from most countries can’t come, then we wouldn’t be able to hold it,” she told the Nikkan Sports Daily. “But conversely, unless such a situation emerges, the Games will not be canceled.” The live viewing events might be, though. Governor Yuriko Koike announced that the venue at Yoyogi Park would be used as a vaccination site. Asked whether that meant the live events would be scrapped, she said “it depends on the coronavirus situation, but we will first concentrate on vaccinations.”

Vaccination Drive Gathers Pace

Finally, some positive news. Japan’s vaccination drive appears to be gaining some kind of momentum. On Wednesday, the prime minister’s office revealed that, as of Tuesday, more than 10 million had received at least one dose of the vaccine. That’s equivalent to around eight percent of the country’s population. Admittedly, that doesn’t sound particularly impressive. It’s still lagging way behind most countries, but at least things are starting to look rosier. According to a Bloomberg article, the seven-day average of doses has quadrupled in two weeks. Last Sunday, Health minister Norihisa Tamura announced that municipalities have been instructed to start mailing Covid-19 vaccination vouchers to people aged under 65 from mid-June including for those without underlying conditions. “If we wait until everyone (with underlying conditions) has been vaccinated, we don’t know when it will be completed,” said Tamura.

AKB48 Member Yuki Kashiwagi Discovers She Possibly Has Syringomyelia on TV Program

On Thursday’s special edition of the television program Shuji ga Tsuru Shinryojo (lit. A Clinic Where a Doctor Can be Found), AKB48 member Yuki Kashiwagi was shown an X-ray which revealed a darker mass in her spinal cord. The attending doctor told her there’s a good chance it’s syringomyelia, a rare condition characterized by a fluid-filled cavity or cyst known as a syrinx that forms within the spinal cord. That syrinx can expand over time, compressing or destroying the surrounding nerve tissue. Kashiwagi had been suffering from numbness in her left hand for around a year. Set to turn 30 in July, she decided to have a comprehensive medical check-up for the first time. Shortly after the program aired, she uploaded a YouTube video to reassure fans. Though surprised by the diagnosis, she said she was relieved they caught the illness at an early stage.