In a lengthy joint statement by all four Grand Slams, organizers said they had “tried unsuccessfully” to speak to the second seed in Paris, check on her wellbeing after she claimed she would not speak to the press and ask her to reconsider her position while discussing the “specifics of her issue”, which Osaka said had been about protecting her mental health.
The announcement revealed that Osaka, who had admitted that she expected a financial punishment over her rebellion, had been fined $15,000 for a code of conduct violation in the purported absence of a willingness to establish a dialog over the saga.
“We want to underline that rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement,” said the letter, emphasizing what they see as the importance of player engagement to the growth and development of the game.
“As a sport, there is nothing more important than ensuring no player has an unfair advantage over another, which unfortunately is the case in this situation if one player refuses to dedicate time to participate in media commitments while the others all honor their commitments.”
That penalty is tiny to a star who made more money than any other female athlete in history in the last 12 months, but Osaka’s place in the tournament and future Grand Slams could be under threat should she continue her action.
Describing “tougher sanctions” and a potential “major offense investigation”, the statement said that the world number two could be defaulted from Roland Garros and outlawed from competing.
In a sharp twist on Saturday, the official French Open Twitter account also posted a swiftly-deleted photo of four players, including all-time great Rafael Nadal, appearing to happily speak to the media, adding: “They understood the assignment.”
That escalated the debate and even heralded suggestions of sexism and racism. “Naomi said her decision was ‘nothing personal to the tournament’,” said one, revisiting an original social media statement by the player in which Osaka pledged she was “just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”
“Yet here they are taking it personally. Why can’t women protect their peace in peace? Why can’t female athletes of color stand up for themselves without ridicule?”
A fellow supporter implied that the Grand Slam alliance behind the letter had composed their message in bad faith, scorning: “I know I always threaten someone with severe punishment when I have legitimate interest in their wellbeing.”
Others were less convinced that press conferences can be as damaging at Osaka seems to find them.
“I think the bottom line is, if you’re fit enough to compete at highest level of physical and emotional stress then you’re capable of answering some questions afterwards,” said one.
“If you’re really in need of help, step away from the game and go get it. Play and live up to contract language or don’t play.”
Part of Osaka’s purported problem is the repetitive nature of questioning she says she receives. “Maybe the solution is that journalists also need to qualify to be in a presser, just like an athlete needs to qualify to play in a competition,” argued a sympathizer.
“There are always some seriously dumb or righteous questions asked.”
A disagreeing reply asked: “Why are they bad press? Because they don’t kiss her ass?
“She shouldn’t get special treatment by buying her way out of doing press conferences. The poorer players don’t have that luxury.”
Osaka’s high profile means she is more in demand for press attention than most athletes, but that was not enough to make even some of her fans feel the 23-year-old should skip calls.
“Her media boycott at Roland Garros is simply cheating – like rules don’t apply to her,” blasted one critic.
“She should not be allowed to continue in the tournament if she persists. I’m sorry. She’s a wonderful player and engaging character, but this is not OK.”
Osaka beat Patricia Tig in straight sets in her first-round match on Sunday, advancing to take on another Romanian, Ana Bogdan, on Wednesday.
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