World Champion Lewis Hamilton says he applauds Naomi Osaka’s decision to withdraw from competition in light of revealing her struggles with anxiety and depression.
Osaka, the No. 2 women’s tennis player and a four-time Grand Slam champion, communicated during the build-up to the French Open that she would not partake in post-match press conferences.
Osaka won her first round match, and was fined for not taking part in the mandatory conference, and subsequently withdrew from the competition.
Osaka issued an apology to certain parties, including “all the cool journalists I may have hurt”, and explained the nature of the anxiety and depression with which she lives.
The 23-year-old has emerged as one of sport’s most recognisable figures and, as with Hamilton in Formula 1, has lent her voice to supporting diversity and activism within tennis.
Hamilton drew parallels with his own experience and criticised French Open organisers for their stance, with the tournament having previously threatened Osaka with greater sanctions prior to her own withdrawal.
“She’s an incredible athlete and human being and her activism has been just so impactful,” said Hamilton.
“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 into the spotlight and it weighs heavily on you.
“The thing is most of us are not prepared. I remember when I got to Formula 1 and the team [McLaren] had PR.
“I was never prepared for being thrown in front of a camera, I was never guided as to what to look out for, and helped to navigate through that. You kind of learn through mistakes.
“It’s incredibly nerve-wracking, especially when you have all good intentions but people take advantage of it.
“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.
“I think the way they [tournament organisers] reacted was not good, with the fine. Someone talking about their personal mental health, and then being fined for it… that wasn’t cool.”
Hamilton made his Formula 1 debut as a 22-year-old in 2007 and has had occasional flare-ups with some sections of the media, most notably in 2016, when he did not take questions at one press conference following some negative coverage.
He believes some competitors, particularly younger ones during the early stages of their careers, could do with greater support.
“I’ve learned the hard way and made many a mistake 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 with it than others.
“I’ve learned over my time here, and I’m trying to continue to learn how I 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. I think we need to be supporting more. It shouldn’t be a case where you’re pressured.
“There are scenarios where, for example with 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 needs to be really looked into, and how people react to that, and rather be supportive and uplifting to her.”