The 23-year-old was named Laureus Sportswoman of the Year for 2021 after winning her second US Open title, but it wasn’t just her success on the court that contributed to her claiming the accolade.
During her run to grand slam success at Flushing Meadows and in the midst of the Black Lives Matter campaign, Osaka wore a different face mask for every match, each one featuring the name of a Black victim of alleged police or racist violence in the US.
After seeing so many of her “role models” win the award, Osaka said it “means a lot” to her to be able to collect it herself.
“Regarding my activism on the court, I think it is important to use my voice, because for me I feel like I often hold back a lot and worry about what people think of me, but you know if you have a platform it is very important you use it,” she explained.
“Looking ahead, my main hopes for the future would be just to have helped or impacted as many people as I could and, hopefully, be a better person.”
Usually a glitzy, red carpet event that has earned the nickname the “Oscars of Sport,” this year’s Laureus Awards was staged digitally due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The awards told the “inspirational stories of people who worked tirelessly to combat the pandemic, and highlighted the advocacy of sportsmen and sportswomen who have used their positions of influence to make a powerful impact on issues and conflicts which go beyond sport,” according to a Laureus statement.
Using his platform
Like Osaka, another prominent athlete who used his platform to shine a light on social injustices and racial inequality during 2020 was Formula One superstar Lewis Hamilton.
At the same time as equaling Michael Schumacher’s record of seven F1 world championships, Hamilton was a strong voice against police brutality and racial injustice in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
The Mercedes driver wore a Black Lives Matter helmet with a black racing suit, while also taking the knee before each grand prix and encouraging his colleagues to do the same. His car was painted black as a statement of the team’s commitment to diversity.
As a result, Hamilton — who jointly won the Sportsman of the Year Award last year with Lionel Messi — was awarded the inaugural Laureus Athlete Advocate of the Year Award for 2021 “for his involvement in the fight against racism.”
“This past year has been incredibly difficult for so many, but it has also been heartening to see the power of our collective voices spark new conversations and change,” Hamilton said.
“The impact of each and every one of you who have stood up, is so inspiring, so I want to thank you. Please keep fighting, keep shining your light.
“The global rising to address the longstanding issue of systemic racism and inequality in our society has been monumental, but we must continue to fight
“We must all see ourselves as responsible for making positive change in our world, and hold ourselves accountable, so that the promises of last year turn in to action. I truly believe that together, we will get there, and so I stand with you as we push forwards.”
Capping off history
Alongside Hamilton, Rafael Nadal also had an historic 2020.
In June, the Spaniard won his 13th French Open title, equaling Roger Federer’s all-time record of 20 career grand slam victories in the process.
In recognition, Nadal was named Laureus’ Sportman of the Year for 2020, his fourth Laureus award.
“I have had some amazing competitors: the rest of the sportsmen probably deserve the trophy the same as me, but this was the year for me and I can’t be happier,” the 34-year-old said.
“Winning the French Open and equaling the 20th grand slam of Roger Federer has been an unforgettable moment. It means a lot to equal my great rival, but at the same time, my great friend. It’s something very special after all the history we have had together on and off court,” added Nadal.
“The pandemic that we are facing is something unprecedented and I want to send a message of support to all the families that have suffered or lost somebody.”