Naomi Osaka hits back at critics over Tokyo Olympics controversy

Tennis star Naomi Osaka says she was told her ‘black card was revoked’ after she chose to represent Japan in the Olympics instead of the US, as she hits back at critics, insisting: ‘African American isn’t the only black’

  • The tennis superstar will represent Japan at the Olympics this month 
  • Naomi, 23, was born in in Chūō-ku, Osaka to a Japanese mother and Haitian father and was raised in the US, but has always played for Japan
  • Due to a Japanese law, the former dual citizen renounced her US citizenship in 2019 ahead of her 22nd birthday
  • Naomi spoke out about the backlash over her decision to represent Japan in a new Netflix docu-series, which was released on Friday 
  • She said ‘it was never even a secret that I’m going to play for Japan for the Olympics’, noting that she has represented the country since age 14
  • Naomi also pointed out that there is a ‘difference between nationality and race’ 
  • Her mother previously said Naomi and her sister ‘have always felt Japanese’ and ‘made the decision that Naomi would represent Japan at an early age’  
  • The release of the docu-series comes two months after the player dropped out of the French open following controversy over her decision not to do any press  
  • Find out the latest Tokyo Olympic news including schedule, medal table and results right here

Japanese-Haitian tennis star Naomi Osaka has hit back at critics of her decision to represent Japan at the Olympics this months, revealing that she was told her ‘black card was revoked’ after she announced that she would not be playing for the US in Tokyo.   

The 23-year-old, who was born in in Chūō-ku, Osaka to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, was raised in the US but has been competing under the Japanese flag since she was a teenager.

So while she insists it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she will continue to represent Japan at the Olympic Games this summer, the star says she has faced backlash for the decision.

‘I’ve been playing under the Japan flag since I was 14. It was never even a secret that I’m going to play for Japan for the Olympics,’ she says her Netflix docu-series, which premiered today.

‘I don’t choose America and suddenly people are like, “Your black card is revoked.” And it’s like, African American isn’t the only black, you know?’ she went on. 

Home country: Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka will represent Japan at the Olympics this month — a fact that has displeased some of her American fans

Tennis star: The 23-year-old who was born in in Chūō-ku, Osaka to a Japanese mother and Haitian father but was raised in the US

‘I don’t choose America and suddenly people are like, “Your black card is revoked.” And it’s like, African American isn’t the only black, you know?’ she said  

‘I don’t know, I feel like people really don’t know the difference between nationality and race because there’s a lot of black people in Brazil, but they’re Brazilian.’ 

Naomi moved to New York from Japan at age three, but she has always chosen to represent Japan in any international competition, a decision that was made when she was still just a child.  

Her mother, Tamaki, told the Wall Street Journal: ‘We made the decision that Naomi would represent Japan at an early age.

‘She was born in Osaka and was brought up in a household of Japanese and Haitian culture. Quite simply, Naomi and her sister Mari have always felt Japanese so that was our only rationale. 

‘It was never a financially motivated decision nor were we ever swayed either way by any national federation,’ she added.

Plus, Naomi is no longer an American citizen. She retained dual American and Japanese citizenship for her entire childhood, but Japanese law mandates that anyone with dual citizenship born after 1985 must choose one by their 22nd birthday. 

So ahead of turning 22 in 2019, Naomi publicly announced that she would be renouncing her US citizenship. 

‘It is a special feeling to aim for the Olympics as a representative of Japan,’ she told the Japanese broadcaster NHK. ‘I think that playing with the pride of the country will make me feel more emotional.’ 

As well as actively celebrating her Japanese heritage, Naomi has been an incredibly outspoken supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

She has regularly promoted the movement on T-shirts and face masks during tournaments and during the US Open last year, she regularly sported face coverings that bore the names of slain black men and women, including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, and Elijah McClain. 

In August 2020, she pulled out of her semi-final at the Western & Southern Open in New York following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, saying at the time: ‘Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman.’

Shortly after she made her announcement, tournament organizers made the decision to suspend play for the day.

The highest-paid female athlete in the world, Naomi also took the opportunity in her Netflix series to talk about her decision to withdraw from the French Open in May after refusing to take part in her press obligations, citing her struggles with depression and anxiety, which she began struggling with after beating Serena Williams in the US Open final in 2018.    

Naomi won the match 6-2, 6-4, but her victory was overshadowed by the bitter controversy that erupted over Serena’s on-court arguments with chair umpire Carlos Ramos of Portugal, who issued her with a string of fines.  

As a result of the on-court drama, Naomi found herself thrust into the center of a media frenzy and she has remained very much in the spotlight ever since. 

‘Before I won the US Open, so many people told my Dad I would never be anything,’ she said. 

‘There is a difference between nationality and race’: Inside Naomi Osaka’s heritage and upbringing

Naomi, 23, was born in Chūō-ku, Osaka to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father and spent the first three years of her life living there with her family. 

Her mother, Tamaki Osaka, was born in Hokkaido, Japan, while her father, Leonard Francois, is originally from Jacmel, Haiti. The couple met in Japan when Leonard was a college student and Tamaki was in high school, when the former was on a trip to Hokkaido. 

Both Naomi and her older sister Mari were given their mother’s surname because the family felt that it would make things easier for the siblings to have a Japanese name while living in the country. 

‘It was mostly a practical matter when they lived in Japan, helpful for enrolling in schools and renting apartments,’ the New York Times reported in 2018. 

The tennis pro relocated to Long Island, New York, with her family when she was three years old. They spent several years living with Leonard’s parents, before later moving to Florida in order to focus on Naomi and Mari’s tennis training.  

Until recently, Naomi held dual American and Japanese citizenship, however she made the decision to renounce her US citizenship in 2019 ahead of her 22nd birthday in keeping with a Japanese law, which mandates that anyone with dual citizenship who was born after 1985 must choose one by the time they turn 22.  

Naomi has also expressed on a number of occasions that she does not ‘feel like she’s American’, explaining that she does have a very close connection to both her Japanese and her Haitian heritage. 

‘My dad’s Haitian, so I grew up in a Haitian household in New York,’ she said during a press conference in 2018 when asked about her ‘relationship with Japanese culture and US culture’. 

‘And my mom’s Japanese and I grew up with the Japanese culture too, and if you’re saying American, I guess because I lived in America, I also have that too.’ 

Candid: The highest-paid female athlete in the world, Naomi also took the opportunity in her Netflix series to talk about her decision to withdraw from the French Open in May 

‘Before I won the US open, so many people told my Dad I would never be anything,’ she said 

‘I think the amount of attention I get is kind of ridiculous — no one prepares you for that,’ she went on 

‘I think the amount of attention I get is kind of ridiculous — no one prepares you for that. I always have this pressure to maintain this sweet-pea image, but now I don’t care what anyone has to say. 

In May, Naomi announced that she would not fulfill any media obligations at the French Open, releasing a statement on Twitter in which she cited her mental health as the reason for her decision not to speak to press. 

‘I’m writing this to say I’m not going to do any press during Roland Garros,’ she said.

‘I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one. 

‘We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.

‘I’ve watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well. I believe that whole situation is kicking a person while they’re down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.  

‘Me not doing press is nothing personal to the tournament and a couple journalists have interviewed me since I was young so I have a friendly relationship with most of them. 


Stepping back: Naomi first announced that she wouldn’t do press at the French Open citing mental health concerns as the reason behind her decision

Penalty: Naomi was fined $15,000 by officials for refusing to appear in front of the media after her first-round match  (pictured May 30 after her win)

A break: On May 31, she announced that she was stepping away from the tournament entirely

‘However, if the organizations think that they can just keep saying “do press or you’re gonna be fined”, and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh. 

‘Anyways, I hope the considerable amount that I get fined for this will go towards a mental health charity,’ she concluded.

Naomi was, in fact, fined $15,000 by officials for refusing to appear in front of the media after her first-round match, with organizers saying she would face ‘more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions’ if she continued her boycott.

So on May 31, she announced that she was stepping away from the tournament entirely.  

‘I’m gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans,’ she said.

Revealing her struggles with depression and anxiety, she said: ‘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.’       

The star’s sponsors, including Nike and MasterCard, backed her decision. Her multiple sponsors have helping her to rake in $55.2 million in the past 12 months. 

Only $5.2 million came from tennis winnings, while the rest came from endorsement deals with the likes of Nike, Beats by Dre, MasterCard, and Nissin. 

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