Should we force athletes to respond to media requests?
Should we force athletes to respond to media requests?

Responding to the media is part of the game

Patrice Hagelauer

Former coach of Yannick Noah and national technical director (Source: Patrice Hagelauer)

We could close this debate in two lines by recalling the definition of sport, which consists in doing the best possible while respecting the rules established by others than them. On the professional tennis circuit, all players, with some exceptions (injury, family problem), are required to respond to journalists after each match. It is one rule among others. You can’t imagine a player making three serves instead of two, it’s the same for press conferences. Rules can change, of course, but not by one.

Beyond this point of principle, every athlete has a duty to give back to his sport what he has given him. Today’s champions caught the tennis bug when they were children watching games or listening to players in the media. In return, they owe it to themselves to promote their discipline to future generations. It is the least that they can give back to all those, federations, clubs, who have supported them in their development.

If we approach this question from an economic point of view, we see that modern sporting events do not hold water if the media are not there. They are largely the ones who finance them, either through broadcasting rights paid by televisions (press conferences are one of them), or through advertising contracts based on the visibility of athletes. Tennis players make money with this whole device. Answering questions is just part of the job.

These press conferences last a few minutes, at most. I don’t think Naomi Osaka’s argument that reporters kick players in is valid. I have attended hundreds of conferences in my career, as national technical director or coach of Yannick Noah. Most of the time, the questions are kind and respectful. I can understand that players feel attacked by such or such particularly ill-intentioned media. But these are rarely accredited for sporting events. Each major tournament ensures this by delegating staff responsible for verifying the pedigree of journalists and media present.

The only point that can possibly plead in favor of Naomi Osaka’s decision is the possible attitude of the Japanese press towards her origins (she was born of a Japanese mother and a Haitian father). I got to know it well with Yannick Noah. We called on coaches to prepare responses to requests on the subject. Either way, no question will be more unpleasant than a poor performance. What’s hard in sport is losing, not responding to reporters.

Collected by Jean-François Fournel

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Should we force athletes to respond to media requests?

It may seem tempting to do without journalists

Stephane Diagana

First French men’s athletics world champion, in Athens in 1997 (Photo: O. Vercherand / Arts et Métiers Mag)

I can understand the problem of Naomi Osaka, who must all the same be in real pain to come to refuse to play and to leave the Roland-Garros tournament. She seems comfortable on the courts, and yet she ends up deciding not to do her job. Getting in front of the media is not always easy, especially when it comes to commenting on a performance or a poor performance. At Roland Garros after a match, or even more in athletics when you find yourself in a mixed zone just after a race, it is sometimes difficult to answer certain questions. We are not destabilized if there is benevolence, but this is not always the case.

However, the case of Naomi Osaka is quite singular. All athletes know that the media are part of the game and of the ecosystem that allows them to make a living from their practice. If it is not an obligation like at Roland Garros, it is a moral contract. The relationship is not always obvious, but we make it easier if we see it as an opportunity to explain things rather than leaving a void that gives way to all speculation. By her decision, Naomi Osaka risks making her life even more complicated in the future. She must take into account the difficulty she feels, and seek psychological support. It is not insoluble.

Afterwards, it must be seen that the digital evolution is greatly changing the situation with regard to the expression of athletes, like other professions for that matter. The appearance of social networks is a real disruption. The champion can communicate however they want, with full control. To be satisfied with this mode of expression, to favor communication in search of information from journalists, to skip the traditional media is very tempting. Especially since the economic partners are increasingly pushing the champions to ensure this visibility on social networks. It is a strong trend. It joins this desire of athletes to express themselves when they want, as they want, on fairly broad subjects, as they demand and are doing more and more.

There is therefore a great temptation to do without journalists. Except that then, the latter will seek other sources of information, in the entourage of the champions, with other relations, which can cause new tensions. Expression on social networks is not devoid of difficulties either, when we see the radical reactions sometimes aroused. Champions are protesting against the latter, and some have cut their accounts on the networks. The worst is not necessarily at a press conference.

Collected by Jean-Luc Ferré

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