AFRICAN MIRROR REPORTER
LEWIS Hamilton has expressed his support for Naomi Osaka, following her publicised withdrawal from the Roland Garros tournament.
At a press conference ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku, Hamilton says that from experience, he understands how hard it is for young people to cope with the pressures of professional sport.
“I think she’s an incredible athlete and human being,” he said. “Her activism has been just so impactful and at such a young age there’s so much weight on her shoulders.
“It’s inevitable, the fact is, when you’re young you’re thrown into the limelight and the spotlight and it weighs heavily on you and probably most of us are not prepared.”
Naomi Osaka had made headlines when she announced that she would withdraw from the Paris Open tennis tournament, after refusing to participate in press conferences for the event due to the strain she said they placed upon her mental health.
Osaka had disclosed to the public that she had been dealing with depression and anxiety since 2018, and that she was not a strong person when it came to media interactions.
Hamilton had first publicly expressed his support for the 23 year-old tennis star on Instagram by telling her that she wasn’t alone in her decision.
“Mental health is not a joke, this is real and serious,” Hamilton wrote. “This takes a lot of courage to do. Let’s all make sure Naomi knows she’s not alone. Today is a good day to check and ask your friends and loved ones how they are doing and let them know they are not alone.”
He reiterated his support in Baku, explaining that during his time at McLaren, he felt that he had been “thrown in the pit” when it came to dealing with the media.
“I remember when I got into F1 the team had PR (public relations), I was never prepared for being in front of a camera, I was never guided as to what to look out for and helped to navigate through that.
“So you just learn through the mistakes and it’s incredibly nerve-wracking especially when you have all good intentions but people take advantage of it,” Hamilton said.
Lewis Hamilton for McLaren in 2009. Picture: Supplied
The current World Champion has had his own rough moments with the media in the past, and after 15 years in the sports, still finds his interactions with the media difficult.
In 2016, Hamilton refused to take questions from journalists at a press conference in Japan, and received criticism for playing on the Snapchat social media app with fellow race driver Carlos Sainz instead of participating.
“I’ve learned the hard way and made many mistakes and I still do today,” he said. “It can be daunting, still, standing behind a camera.
“It’s not the easiest. Particularly if you’re an introvert and you do struggle to be under those sorts of pressures. Some people are less comfortable than others. I’ve learned over my time here, and I’m trying to continue to learn how (to) engage.
“But as I said when I was young I was thrown into the pit and I wasn’t given any guidance or support. What I do know is when youngsters are coming in they’re facing the same thing as I did. And I don’t necessarily know if that’s the best for them.”
The organisers of the Roland Garros tournament had fined Osaka $15 000 for missing a press conference after her first game in the tournament.
They also released a statement affirming that if Osaka continued to skip press conferences, they would continue to issue fines and threatened to expel her from the event which prompted her decision to withdraw.
“I think we need to be supporting more. It shouldn’t be a case where you’re pressured. There are scenarios where, for example Naomi’s scenario, she didn’t feel comfortable for her own personal health not to do something and the backlash is ridiculous.
“People are not taking into account that she’s a human being and she’s saying that [she’s] not well enough to do this right now. I think that need to be really looked into and how people react to that and rather be supportive and uplifting to her,” he added.
“I think she’s incredibly brave, and I applaud her for her bravery because it’s now asking those in power, putting them in question and making them have to think about how they react.”
Hamilton went on to criticise the organisation for their reaction, saying that it wasn’t “cool” for the organisers to resort to fining Osaka or other tennis players who choose to prioritise their mental health, and that they could have handled the situation in a better manner.
“They could have definitely handled it better. I hope they take a deep dive into it and find a better way to navigate in future.
“As athletes we are pushing ourselves to the limit, we are on the edge, and we’re only human beings.”