Naomi Osaka is a record-breaker. She's been ranked number one by the Women's Tennis Association, and the first Asian player to be ranked first in singles. She's also the first Japanese-born player to win a Grand Slam (she's won four). But I know before I ever talk to her that she doesn't take herself too seriously: her TikTok presence alone is proof of that. So Osaka's latest venture makes sense. The tennis pro is partnering with Nike and Laureus Sport for Good to expand Play Academy with Naomi Osaka, a venture she launched last summer that aims to increase girls’ participation in sports.
The program first launched in Osaka, Japan, where the tennis player was born. Now, the program is expanding to both Los Angeles, where Osaka lives and trains now, and Haiti, where her father is from. "I’m extremely proud to be working with community organizations in championing this cause in places I’m personally connected to," Osaka tells Refinery29.
"We know a lot of girls don’t have the same opportunities that boys do when it comes to playing sports," Osaka continues. "Things like cultural differences and not having enough female role models who play sports or coaches who understand what girls need can get in their way. Girls deserve the same opportunities to play sports, and that’s what I’m hoping to give them through Play Academy."
In Japan, Play Academy has provided grants and gender-inclusive training to three community organizations that empower girls through their sports programs, Osaka says. Now, as Play Academy expands, it's seeking new partnerships with community organizations in Los Angeles working to ensure that young girls in the Black, Asian, and Latinx communities have more opportunities to benefit from play and sport.
According to a press release, Play Academy will also be partnering with GOALS Haiti to reach underrepresented youth — 90% of whom they report have never played sports before.
"It’s been very touching to see how Play Academy is making a difference in girls’ lives, and being able to expand to different communities that are so close to my heart is really rewarding," Osaka says.
The tennis pro knows first-hand how important play can be. "Growing up, I saw my mother work incredibly hard to support me and my passion for play," she says. "She taught me that if you believe in something, you should go for it and to always embrace your diversity... I’m still learning how to be the best role model I can be by trying to remain humble, sticking to my beliefs and helping others as much as I can."
For now, Osaka is set on continuing to champion Play Academy's message and work to the world. "Girls can be so powerful no matter who they are, where they come from or what color their skin is," she says. "Maybe someday they’ll look around and realize they’ve become role models too — leading the way for other girls and their communities, and helping to create a more equitable future."