Katherine Grainger: Every athlete would have empathy with Naomi Osaka

UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger has welcomed the debate over athletes’ mental health.

The 2012 double sculls Olympic rowing champion believes it is vital to have open dialogue.

This week, Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Dina Asher-Smith have come out in support of tennis star Naomi Osaka.

UK Sport medal target announcement for Winter Olympics and Paralympics
UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger has empathy for Naomi Osaka (Nick Ansell/PA)

The 23-year-old pulled out of the French Open on Monday after initially saying she would not complete her media duties due to her mental health.

A joint statement from grand slam organisers had already said Osaka could face expulsion from the tournament if she continued to avoid them.

She stated she was going to spend time away from the court after announcing her departure from Roland Garros and Grainger, a six-time world champion, insisted it is vital to consider how being in the public eye impacts athletes.

She said: “Every athlete would have empathy with Naomi Osaka.

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“The response is really important in how we get this right. I’ve always felt as an athlete the media bit is part of what you do but we’ve never really thought to question it and challenge it.

“What Naomi Osaka has done is brilliant because it brings up the conversation of what is right and what is wrong at this time.

“To talk about your sport through the media, there is always a responsibility which comes with that role, but it’s also important to be very careful of people’s mental state and well-being.

“It’s a conversation people are comfortable to have and that’s been a really good change. It’s not a black and white rule of ‘this is right and this is wrong’. It’s about being thoughtful about what is needed on both sides.”

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Grainger was speaking as UK Sport joined with the English Institute of Sport, Team GB and ParalympicsGB to launch a search for new athletes.

‘From Home 2 The Games’ has been designed to encourage young people from all communities in the UK to explore their possibilities in Olympic and Paralympic sports and find untapped potential.

It is looking to engage 11 to 23-year-olds to participate in Olympic sport and 15 to 34-year-olds with an impairment which makes them eligible for Paralympic sport.

Grainger said: “I was part of Team GB for a very long time. It’s an incredible thing to be a part of and we have always appreciated that. The idea for the new campaign is how wide can we throw it so more people get an opportunity to try.

“Sport is so forward-looking and we have some brilliant champions now, but we want to see the next wave.”

::For more information visit www.FromHome2TheGames.com.