Osaka pulls out of Cincy to protest police brutality

Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the Western & Southern Open after reaching the semi-final, as a protest against police brutality

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After a hard-fought quarterfinal win over Anett Kontaveit at the Western & Southern Open, former World No 1 Naomi Osaka has decided to withdraw from the event in protest against a recent case of police brutality.

The 22-year-old has been vocal against police brutality, and was among the first athletes to travel to Minnesota to protest against the death of George Floyd – which sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-racism protests all over the world.

On August 23, in another case of police brutality, an African-American man Jacob Blake was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

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“Hello, as many of you are aware I was scheduled to play my semi-finals match tomorrow,” wrote Osaka in a statement on social media after her match on Wednesday.

“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.

“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. Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach. I’m exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I’m extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again. When will it ever be enough?”

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The Cincinnati ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier event has this year been moved to New York to serve as a tune-up for the US Open which starts next week. The event marks Osaka’s first competitive appearance since she represented Japan at the Fed Cup in February.

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Raonic supports Osaka

In a press conference immediately after his quarterfinal win against Filip Krajinovic, Canadian Milos Raonic came out in support of Osaka’s decision.

“It’s a tough time for everybody,” he said.

“For this to happen in a very visual and disturbing way twice within… and obviously it’s happened many times over, but I think it really garnered a lot of attention, which it deserved many times earlier as well, but due to many people being at home and not busy and about in their own days, per se, but I think, you know, having a sign somewhere of support, banners at a tournament or wearing a shirt in warmup in a NBA game, it can only do so much. I think real disruption and, you know, I think that’s what makes change.

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“So I’m hoping with what the NBA does, and I’m hoping that we, at least on the men’s tour as well as the women’s, we band together and we show our support, because there are many people that are not being treated fairly are being disrespected, having to live in fear, a lot of things that I have never had to experience, you know.”

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Play suspended for a day

The event organisers also decided that the matches scheduled to be held on Thursday would be moved back by a day to Friday as a protest against racial injustice.

“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,” read a collective statement by the ATP, WTA and USTA.

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“The USTA, ATP Tour, and WTA have decided to recognise this moment in time by pausing tournament play at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday, August 27. Play will resume on Friday, August 28.”

The NBA too decided to postpone three playoff matches on August 26 in support of the protest. This came after Wisconsin-based franchise Milwaukee Bucks refused to leave the hotel ahead of its fifth series game against Orlando Magic in protest.