Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

13.19 1 Jun 2021


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Alan Quinlan says he doesn't believe Naomi Osaka was "trivialising mental health in any way" during the recent row about the French Open.

The World Number 2 tennis star was initially fined after saying she wouldn’t do any press conferences following her matches.

Following some public backlash and the threats of further sanctions from organisers, the 23-year-old then announced on social media that she was withdrawing, saying she had suffered long bouts of depression since 2018.

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It has reopened the discussion around the issue of mental health in sport.

Alan Quinlan - the former Irish rugby player who has been candid about his own mental health struggles - does believe Osaka's initial messaging was confusing.

He said: “I think it could have been handled a lot better with her management team and support network in dealing with the organisers of the French Open.

“Now when she’s spoken about struggling since 2018 with her mental health, there’s a lot of compassion for her and understanding for what happened and why it happened."

He said Naomi Osaka has done "remarkably well" in the last few years of playing and earned a lot of money in the process.

However, he said the most important thing is how she feels about herself and her mental health.

He observed: “Being a sports star as she is… she’s on a pedestal and being judged by lots of people. There are pressures that sometimes the individual struggles to deal with… it can affect your mental health, of course.

“I don’t think she was trivialising mental health in any way. I think she is a genuine case of someone who struggled.

"I admire her honesty and her bravery in speaking about mental health - it shows no matter how successful you are, you can be affected negatively. We all wish her well, and hopefully she gets back playing and she gets the support she needs."

Alan said going in front of the press can be daunting - especially after a loss or bad performances - but he believes press conferences are “part of the deal when you participate” in high-level sports.

He said he was surprised when Osaka's support network and management company didn't support her better in handling the matter.

Nonetheless, he believes the incident has highlighted a "subject that’s very, very important".

In an Irish context, he said we've seen many positive changes around mental health education in groups such as the FAI, IRFU and GAA - something that will help the next generation of players currently coming through the ranks.

Anyone looking for support can contact Samaritans for free any time from any phone on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.ie.
Main image: File photo of Naomi Osaka. Picture by: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA

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