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Osaka pulls out of Western & Southern Open in protest against police brutality

On Wednesday night, Naomi Osaka announced that she is withdrawing from the Western & Southern Open semi-finals, which were scheduled for Thursday, following the shooting of Jacob Blake.

In a statement published on Osaka’s Twitter page, the 22-year-old two-time Grand Slam champion penned the heartfelt explanation that she is ‘exhausted’ and feels ‘extremely tired’ of witnessing police brutality in America.

“As many of you are aware, I was scheduled to play my semi-finals match tomorrow. However, before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And as a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis”, writes Osaka. 

Osaka’s decision to sit out of the semi-final comes after Jacob Blake, 29, was shot seven times in his back by a police officer in Wisconsin on the 23rd of August as he opened the door to his car. Blake’s family attorney Patrick Salvi has announced that it will take a ‘miracle’ for Mr. Blake to walk again as the shooting has left him paralysed from the waist down after bullets shattered his vertebrae, and at least one bullet tore through his spinal cord. Salvi also announced that Blake sustained additional injuries to his stomach, kidney, and liver. An investigation into the incident is currently underway by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, and all officers involved have since been suspended. 

The shooting triggered a fresh wave of unrest in Wisconsin, and on the 25th of August Governor Tony Evers declared a State of Emergency and authorized the deployment of the National Guard to stabilize the situation. 

“Watching the continued genocide of black people at the hands of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach. I am exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I am extremely tired of having this same conversation over again”, continued Osaka. 

“I don't expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction”. 

Osaka was due to face Belgium’s Elise Mertens after defeating Annett Kontaveit 4-6 6-2 7-5 to secure her place in the Western & Southern semi-finals. However, following Osaka’s withdrawal, the ATP announced that the tournament will be suspended until Friday the 28th of August. 

‘As a sport, tennis is collectively taking a stance against racial inequality and social injustice that once again has been thrust to the forefront in the United States. The USTA, ATP Tour, and WTA have decided to recognize this moment in time by pausing tournament play at the Western & Southern Open’, reads ATP’s statement on the pause of play. 

Osaka’s decision to sit out of the much-anticipated semi-final was met with much support, and former World Number 1 tennis player Billie Jean King described her move as ‘brave and impactful’. 

‘Athletes using platforms for good means so much. Don’t remain silent’, wrote Billie Jean King.

Osaka’s unprecedented move was also met with frustration, with many social media users expressing they felt uncomfortable with ‘politics’ encroaching into sports. 

However, as the daughter of a Haitian father and Japanese mother, Naomi Osaka has frequently been vocal on issues of race and racial injustice throughout her sporting career. She now joins several American athletes in the Women’s and Men’s NBA in the current display of solidarity against police brutality in America.

Emma Ogao

Cardiff JOMEC grad and aspiring journalist based between the UK & Kenya.

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