Fronting up to scrutiny is part of professional sport en


OPINION: Tennis player Naomi Osaka has excommunicated herself from press conferences as if they are the Spanish Inquisition and yet in most cases they can be dead boring, tame affairs.

At a Commonwealth Games I attended an Australian reporter said something like this to Australia’s reluctant swimming coach: “Look mate, we don’t want to have lunch with you; we just want to ask a few questions. »

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It’s media gold when someone, such as Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart, habitually erupts after a loss. He often states he has turned up only because he’ll be fined if he doesn’t.

Another NRL coach, Wayne Bennett, frequently utters angry, mono-syllabic answers and almost dares reporters to ask a question.

It caught everyone by surprise that Osaka, raised in the United States, the land of the glee, declared herself almost allergic to being questioned at tournaments.

Most of the time she wins and so the questioning would never have been too onerous. She could have just fed the chooks and moved on as everyone else does in celebrityland.

Instead, other players at the French Open found themselves being distracted by being asked about Naomi Osaka’s boycott.

She knew that the clay in Paris wasn’t her surface and she was probably going to lose earlyish. But then losing is a fate that awaits everyone in the men’s game at Roland Garros aside from Spanish slugger Rafael Nadal.

From the start Osaka seemed a shy, introverted person who has had a few sulky moments. But the irony is that while she has the mental fortitude to get it done on court in front of thousands of spectators, seemingly the world outside the tramlines, where she earned two-thirds of her $75 million in the past year, is a step too far.

Professional sport is not there for players to take the money and run, even if as she said she has the wealth and can afford to pay the fines.

Feel for those who don’t in the lower tennis rungs, the first-round losers who are desperate for the media to take an interest in them so they can afford to get to the next event.

Osaka is never going to call an umpire sexist, a liar and a cheat, as her opponent, Serena Williams, did in New York in 2018. Williams deserved a media interrogation after that, and also in Auckland in 2017 when she blamed the wind for her loss; but at least she fronted.

Losing matches comes with sport as much as winning does and Osaka’s withdrawal at Roland Garros has backfired by bringing worldwide heat on her way beyond what she could have imagined.

She has steered herself into a cul-de-sac if she wants to return to tournament play, and to the Olympics for that matter. Wimbledon next up is likely to be intractable; for instance they insist everyone wears pure white there and take it or leave it.

For players at lesser levels of sport it can be a chore to come out for a media chat because for many it is a brand new experience. I have had to chase shy rugby players around grounds as they sought to escape arranged chin-wags.

On All Blacks tours, Jonah Lomu’s press conferences were packed affairs. When he was at his peak it mattered not what he said, only that he said something. He fronted.

On tour in Australia, press conferences with All Blacks coach Laurie Mains were tense occasions as he attacked the Aussie media and point-blank refused to cooperate with them. In Brisbane a local film crew turned up panting, minutes late and Mains told them where to go.

When Tiger Woods played the New Zealand Open golf at Paraparaumu Beach in 2000, the conferences were conducted out in fresh air because he and his minders were always in a hurry; but as the world’s leading media magnet, at least he fronted.

At major golf tournaments such as the US Masters it is even more daunting. Their press halls are packed with hundreds of journalists.

In the wake of the Osaka stand-down, Venus Williams came up with the juvenile statement that she attends press conferences because she is superior to all journalists, as in she can play better tennis than they can. Fine, but they can punctuate and put words together better than she can, and they do it for a fraction of the coin.

Even players who have acted like pork-chops such as Aussies racketeers Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios have still fronted after matches and have deserved the curly questions about their weird behaviour.

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