Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton has thrown his support behind Naomi Osaka following her withdrawal from the French Open and has claimed young sports stars deserve better support when handling the spotlight of the media.
Osaka made off-court headlines with her pre-tournament decision to skip her post-match press duties at Roland Garros to protect her mental health, with the four-time Grand Slam champion receiving a $15,000 fine from the organisers after failing to attend a media conference following her first round win over Patricia Tig.
The 23-year-old world number two subsequently announced she would be withdrawing from the event and revealed she had suffered with depression since winning her maiden major title at the US Open in 2018.
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Hamilton responded by tweeting his backing for the Japanese star before adding to his comments at Thursday’s F1 press conference ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan GP.
The Mercedes driver said: "She is an incredible athlete and human being, and her activism has been just so impactful.
"At such a young age there is so much weight on her shoulders, it's inevitable. The fact is when you are young you are thrown into the limelight and spotlight, it weighs heavily on you. The thing is most of us are not prepared.
I think she is incredibly brave and I applaud her for her bravery because I think it's now asking those in power, putting them in question, and making them have to think about they react because I think the way they reacted was not good with the fine. Someone talking about their personal mental health, and then being fined for it, definitely wasn't cool. They could have definitely handled it better I'm sure and hope they take a deep dive into it and find a better way to navigate in future.
"As athletes, we are pushing ourselves to the limit, we are on the edge, and we're only human beings."
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Hamilton also spoke of his own issues when dealing with the media from a young age and some of the challenges he has faced during his 14 years in Formula 1.
He said: "I have learnt the hard way and made many a mistake, and still do today. It can be daunting still standing behind a camera, it's not the easiest, particularly if you're an introvert and do struggle to be under those sorts of pressures.
"Some people are less comfortable with it than others. I've learnt over my time here and I'm trying to continue to learn how I engage but when I was young I was thrown into the pit and wasn't given any guidance or support. What I do know is that when youngsters are coming in they are facing the same thing I did and I don't necessarily know if that's the best for them.
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"We need to be supporting more. It shouldn't be a case where you are pressured. There are scenarios where, for example with Naomi's scenario, she didn't feel comfortable for her own personal health not to do something and the backlash is ridiculous.
"People not taking into account that she's a human being and she's saying that 'I'm not well enough to do this right now', that really needs to be looked into and how people react to that."
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Watch all the action from the 2021 French Open live on Eurosport, eurosport.co.uk and the Eurosport app with 13-time champion Rafael Nadal eyeing a remarkable 14th title at his favourite event and 2020 Roland Garros sensation Iga Swiatek aiming to replicate her stunning triumph in Paris.
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