Thomas Bjorn has called on sports’ governing bodies to do more to help athletes struggling with their mental health in the wake of tennis star Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open.
Four-time grand slam champion Osaka pulled out of the tournament amid a furore caused by her decision to skip mandatory press conferences.
The 23-year-old declined to participate in media sessions at Roland Garros, saying that they were negatively impacting her mental health. In return, she was fined more than £10,000 by tournament organisers and threatened with expulsion from the event.
Osaka pre-empted that prospect by withdrawing instead, an act of what she called ‘self care’ after her struggles with depression following her 2018 US Open victory.
Bjorn, who documented some of his own mental health battles in his book ‘Mind Game’, took to Twitter to express sympathy with Osaka and called for more to be done to end the stigma and challenge misconceptions surrounding mental health amongst athletes.
“Talking to the media and participating in press conferences are definitely part of the job of a professional athlete,” wrote the 2018 Ryder Cup winning captain. “It’s what top players do in any sport to attract attention to the sport and support the need from fans and sponsors. It’s part of the game.
“However, when I saw Naomi Osaka WD from Roland Garros, it made me think about a few things.
“When athletes are children, they just want to do their sport without any consideration of the bigger picture. It’s pure love and joy for the game they play. Often very innocent.
“In today’s world, talented children are often driven extremely hard by parents, sports institutions and even their country to become the best they can. This can be every testing for any child and there are many examples of total burnouts.”
He added: “Mental awareness/health is something that still is frowned upon in the sporting world. [Some people think] Athletes in many sports have great financial upside and therefore should just do as they are told because of the privilege stowed upon them. I really struggle with this mindset.
“Naomi Osaka is a human being that has issues that she needs help and support with. Sporting governing bodies need to do more to help athletes with their mental health problems. Naomi Osaka is a great athlete and tennis is a better sport with her in it.”