French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton has made the extraordinary claim that French Open officials handled the Naomi Osaka situation “very well”.
Osaka withdrew from the clay-court grand slam after her first-round victory after being threatened with fines and expulsion if she continued her controversial media boycott.
'DISGRACE': French Open rocked by 'disgusting' controversy
The World No.2 stated before the tournament that she would be skipping all media commitments to protect her mental health.
She then withdrew from the tournament and revealed her struggle with depression after copping a $15,000 fine and the threat of heavier punishments if she didn't reconsider her stance.
Moretton initially took aim at Osaka for her decision to boycott the media, labelling her decision a "phenomenal mistake".
"It shows to what extent today (the need) that there is strong governance in tennis," he said.
"What is happening there is, in my opinion, not acceptable. We will stick to the laws and rules for penalties and fines."
It was only after Osaka revealed that she had been battling bouts of depression since 2018 that Moretton and the Grand Slam Board softened their stance.
But Moretton caused even more controversy in responding to Osaka's withdrawal when he refused to take questions from the media, which many found ironic and hypocritical considering his initial comments about the Japanese star.
A new entry tonight for PR shambles of the year. Would love to know the thinking behind the FFT president calling a press conference and delivering a short pre-prepared statement on Osaka (that could have easily been sent out via email) without taking questions. Oh, the irony...
— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) May 31, 2021
French Open boss defends handling of Naomi Osaka saga
So it was even more baffling on Thursday when Moretton declared in an interview with the New York Times that he and other officials had handled the situation well.
“I think we did very, very well,” Moretton said.
The French Tennis Federation president said he would have kept dishing out fines if Osaka had continued to boycott her media commitments.
“The goal was not to penalise her. It was to say clearly: Here’s the rule,” he added.
“I don’t think we would have gone to a tougher sanction, because we understood the situation. But it’s the rule. The rule is there to be fair to all the players.”
Moreton also opened up about whether press conferences and media commitments should be mandatory, saying a change in that rule could be tricky.
“Perhaps we will change the rules, and then everyone only comes to press if they want to,” he said.
“You will see that there are not many who will come.
“Everyone will be their own journalist. (Players will) speak when they want to speak, say what they want to say, respond only to questions they want to answer. And I think it’s a serious problem.”
“So yes of course to measures that will provide help and support to players, but let’s keep the freedom of the press to ask a question that might be uncomfortable and that interests the public, who are the ones who provide a living for the athletes and the personalities."
Osaka has since withdrawn from the upcoming grass-court event in Berlin, sparking concerns about her participation at Wimbledon starting later this month.
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