Japan celebrates Osaka; Sponsors cautious about activism

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FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2020, file photo, Naomi Osaka, of Japan, wears a protective mask due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, featuring the name "George Floyd", while arriving on court to face Shelby Rogers, of the United States, during the quarterfinal round of the US Open tennis championships, in New York. Osaka's victory in the U.S. Open helped raised the issue of racial injustice in the United States. Before each of her matches, she wore a mask with the names of seven Black Americans who died as victims of violence.(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

TOKYO – Japan is celebrating Naomi Osaka's victory at the U.S. Open, especially her array of corporate sponsors.

But like much of Japan, they are more muted in backing — or understanding — her campaign against racial injustice in the United States. Unlike the U.S., Japan has relatively few immigrants and has a generally lower level of awareness about racism — even at home.

Osaka was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, but moved to the United States when she was three and was raised there.

Before each of her seven U.S. Open matches, she wore a mask with the names of Black Americans who died as the victims of violence.

Osaka is expected to compete for Japan in next year's Olympics and, like many athletes, may want to use that stage to deliver her message; in Osaka's case, the Black Lives Matter campaign.

The International Olympic Committee prohibits displays of “political, religious or racial propaganda” on the Olympic medal podium under its so-called Rule 50. But many athletes are pushing for more rights to speak out at upcoming Olympics.

Some people lobbying for change have said “anti-racist” speech is not political speech.

The Associated Press contacted several of Osaka's sponsors. Forbes magazine listed her last year as the world's richest female athlete with earnings of $37.4 million in the previous 12 months.