Olympic may be in crisis, but when Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony, there was that special magic of the Games again. Many thought of Atlanta 1996 or Sydney 2000, when Muhammad Ali and Cathy Freeman took on the symbolic task with fire.
Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka is the star of the Tokyo Games . She is the highest paid female athlete in the world, was number one in the world rankings, Netflix dedicated a documentary to her. But she also has a strong profile outside of the court, because she positions herself against racism and speaks openly about her depression.
The story of her and Japan is not only characterized by harmony. Osaka was born in the city of the same name as the daughter of a local and a Haitian. When she was still a child, the family moved to the USA via New York to California, also because the father never felt accepted by Japanese society, as he says. In the USA, Osaka matured into a professional player with the best possible physical conditions. Her powerful baseline game earned her four Grand Slam titles, and she has long been the best player in Japanese history.
Beyond the boundaries of her sport, however, she was not known for her backhand, but for her social commitment. This is how she works against racism. At the US Open last year, which she won, she wore seven different masks with the names of people who had been victims of American police violence in the victory speeches at seven matches.
Only they themselves will know how much they burden public appearances
Osaka recently caused a stir when she spoke out against the obligation to hold press conferences during the French Open. She even withdrew from the tournament, justifying this with the fight against her depression. No athlete had ever commented on a mental illness with this intensity.
Such an athlete can of course be marketed very well. The fashion agency IMG secured her as a client. A few days ago, an electronics giant joined the ranks of the large companies representing Osaka. This is how Osaka became the highest paid female athlete in the world according to Forbes . In addition to almost $ 20 million in prize money, around 37 million advertising revenue came in the 2020 calendar year. This also overtook Serena Williams economically. Osaka is said to lead an entire generation with its modern views.
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Naomi Osaka is not a self-confident person who makes small talk and socializing easy. In the tennis scene, she is considered shy, insecure, reserved. Speeches and press conferences, even if they have become more substantial, are not their profession. Only she herself will know how much public appearances are a burden and what she needs for her recovery.
For some, it is all the more irritating that Ōsaka is increasingly becoming a brand. She graced the cover of Vogue and was the first dark-skinned athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated . A multi-part Netflix documentary was released, she promoted her own Barbie doll and wrote an essay for Time Magazine.
“It’s okay not to be okay,” read the headline in Times Magazine. “Knowledge number one. You can never please everyone,” wrote Osaka. She loves communicating in writing.
There is also great interest in their original homeland. Dozens of Japanese reporters follow her at the four major tennis tournaments over the year. The myth that she can hardly speak Japanese, which ZDF commentator Béla Réthy announced on Friday, is not true. In Melbourne, Paris, London and New York, for example, she always expressed herself in Japanese — more slowly, but with great effort.
Japan adorns itself with Ōsaka’s sporting successes. A museum was built in her honor in Nemuro on the north island of Hokkaidō, where her grandfather lived. But many Japanese are unfamiliar with their non-sporting activities. “In Japan, athletes do not have the role of advocate for social change,” Hiroki Ogasawara, professor of sociology at Kobe University told Spiegel . Japanese athletes would be more likely to be seen as entertainers.
New accusation of racism in Japan
In any case, it was noticeable that after the opening ceremony, none of the major Japanese media showed a picture of Osaka igniting the flame at the top of the homepage. “In a conservative, nationalist country like Japan, even with this past alongside Nazi Germany, it is anything but natural to entrust the daughter of a Japanese and a Haitian who grew up in the USA with this symbolic, historical task “wrote the German journalist Jens Weinreich. A young woman who is politically active. “It’s almost a revolution for Japan.”
You have to know that in Japan only around 2.3 percent of people have a foreign passport. Workers from abroad would have to support the aging population in some sectors. But origin plays a major role in society. This is proven by another recent incident: shortly before the opening ceremony, the Senegalese musician Latyr Sy, who has lived in Japan for 20 years, posted that he had been canceled by the organizers shortly beforehand. He accused the organizers of racism.
When the torch-bearer Naomi Osaka lit the flame in Tokyo on Friday, she was noticeably tense. The burden of this task alone would have been enough. Given the historical context of their country, their origins and personal constitution, it is to be hoped that none of this was too much for them.
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Originally published at https://www.zaviewsport.xyz.