‘It was never even a secret,’ said the tennis star
Tennis star Naomi Osaka has spoken out about the backlash she received after announcing she would play for her birth country of Japan rather than the United States at this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
She expressed surprise at the criticism during an episode of her new self-titled docuseries on Netflix.
“I’ve been playing under the Japan flag since I was 14. It was never even a secret that I’m going to play for Japan for the Olympics,” said Ms Osaka, according to Insider.
“So I don’t choose America and suddenly people are like, ‘Your Black card is revoked.’ And it’s like, African American isn’t the only Black, you know? I don’t know, I feel like people really don’t know the difference between nationality and race because there’s a lot of Black people in Brazil, but they’re Brazilian.”
The sports icon was born in Japan and moved to New York at the age of three. She previously held dual American and Japanese citizenship, but according to Japanese law, dual citizens must choose one before their 22nd birthday, so Osaka relinquished her American citizenship in 2019.
Ms Osaka told Japanese broadcaster NHK at the time that she had a “special desire” to represent her birth country at the Olympic Games.
“It is a special feeling to aim for the Olympics as a representative of Japan,” she said. “I think that playing with the pride of the country will make me feel more emotional.”
Ms Osaka’s mother is Japanese, and her father is Haitian.
In 2018, Ms Osaka’s parents told The Wall Street Journal that their daughter’s cultural ties to Japan meant she had planned to represent the country from an early age.
Earlier this year Ms Osaka announced that she was stepping away from tennis to take care of her mental health.
In a celebrated essay in TIME magazine, she explained her rationale, and also confirmed that she would return to the game to represent Japan at the Olympics, which are being held in Tokyo.
She said: “After taking the past few weeks to recharge and spend time with my loved ones, I have had the time to reflect, but also to look forward. I could not be more excited to play in Tokyo. An Olympic Games itself is special, but to have the opportunity to play in front of the Japanese fans is a dream come true. I hope I can make them proud.”