Tokyo Olympics update

Many athletes have dedicated their careers to one day being able to host the Olympics. For nearly ten years, the career of Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka has been focused on becoming the spokesperson of the Tokyo Olympics.

Years of training, planning and marketing culminated with the Olympic tennis debut in Osaka on Sunday. She easily defeated China’s Zhengsaisai 6-1 and 6-4. The first round of the competition was held less than 48 hours after the Olympic flame was lit in Osaka. This is perhaps the most symbolic role the host country has given its citizens.

“I feel a little unwell now,” Osaka said on Sunday.

During her young career, Osaka won four Grand Slam titles, changed the international conversation about racial injustice and mental health, and became the world’s highest paid female athlete. But all these achievements are the prelude to the Tokyo Olympics.

In October 2011, Osaka made her professional tennis debut on her 14th birthday. Japan was still suffering from the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster seven months ago.

When the 2013 Olympics were awarded to Tokyo, it symbolized the country’s recovery from tragedy and years of economic stagnation. During the preparations for the Olympics, sponsors spent more than US$3 billion in keeping with the revitalized Japan, and rising Osaka became the main candidate for their incarnation: young, energetic, talented, and world-renowned.

“I will represent Japan in the Olympics. It’s never a secret,” Osaka said in a documentary series about her life released on Netflix this month. However, as she discovered along the way, other groups also hope that she can become their symbol.

Osaka’s first game at the Olympics on Sunday © AP

Osaka was born in Osaka, Japan. His mother is Japanese and her father is Haitian. Osaka and her family moved to the United States, where she spent most of her youth. Then, in 2019, in order to comply with the Japanese law that does not allow dual citizenship, she gave up her US passport.

The move was to allow her to retain the qualifications to participate in the Olympic Games in Japan, which triggered a debate about the nature of her identity.

“So I don’t choose the United States. Suddenly people will say,’Your’black card’ has been revoked,” she said in the documentary. “African Americans are not the only black people, you know?”

By 2020, Osaka has become one of the most prominent voices behind the “Black people’s fate” movement, advocating for awareness of racial injustice in the process of winning the second U.S. Open championship.

Her actions help Changing the sports marketing industry, Because her unique appeal to the East and the West allows her to influence blue-chip sponsors who are increasingly accepting her message — or at least, not to distance themselves from it.

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Recently, she has been an advocate for mental health. She withdrew from the French Open because the competition required a post-match press conference.

Sunday’s first-round victory in Tokyo marked her first time since the spring to speak at a press conference, although she said she was “not surprising about it.”

Since last year, she has perfected the art of communication in other ways, such as the covers of “Vogue” and “Sports Illustrated”, some documentaries produced by basketball player LeBron James, and her growing portfolio of corporate sponsorships, including Louis Vuitton , TAG Heuer and Sweetgreen.

This makes Osaka appear in Tokyo, which is not only a symbol of the Olympic Games, but also a symbol of many undertakings, brands and communities, making it more surreal. During the non-pandemic period, the stands of the Ariake Tennis Park Center Court will be packed with rafters, full of energy, and burst of applause between the two points.

On Sunday, only a few dozen people—mainly media, volunteers, and event workers—sit in the stands. There is still enough air, and occasionally motorcycles can be heard whizzing by in the traffic outside, and the sound of a person’s knuckles hitting the metal railings echoes on the upper deck of the stadium.

The ban on spectators has always been one of the most significant features of these Olympics, and this is indeed at an early stage. But their absence is most obvious in the space around Osaka, because finally, she is a celebrater in Japan.

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