Naomi Osaka is expanding a tennis program she launched in Japan last summer to locations in Los Angeles and Haiti.
Play Academy, which Osaka created with Nike and Laureus Sport for Good, aims to improve young girls’ lives through grants and capacity-building training that boost their access and participation to sport.
The grassroots initiative began in Osaka’s birth country of Japan. It is now continuing to Los Angeles, where she currently lives, and Haiti, where her father is from.
The program draws inspiration from Osaka’s own experiences as an athlete with a rich transcontinental heritage.
Hey LA, it’s time to level the playing field. We’re officially launching Play Academy with Naomi Osaka in LA. Join me, @Nike and @LaureusSport in getting girls in Los Angeles active in sport. Apply for a grant at https://t.co/JpFr22stqt pic.twitter.com/wFKVk3PrRd
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) May 3, 2021
The program is set to collaborate with local sports organizations that are “helping encourage a new definition of movement for the next generation of girls.”
“We believe that all kids — especially girls — deserve a chance to play, no matter where they come from or what they look like,” Osaka told PEOPLE. “The more we provide girls with opportunities to get active, the more opportunities we are giving them to become leaders in their communities.”
In Los Angeles, Play Academy seeks to partner with organizations from the Black, Asian and Latino communities. Grant applications are currently open and the first group of partners will be announced later this summer.
In Haiti, Play Academy has partnered with GOALS Haiti, which advances youth leadership through soccer and education to create stronger rural communities.
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The Haiti funding will be directed toward sport accessibility for girls, the hiring of more female coaches, and the introduction of a “nuanced curriculum” on how to encourage girls to create positive, healthy habits.
Osaka says her own tennis journey was not easy, but her family was dedicated to bringing her opportunities. She understands it’s not the same for other young girls.
“There are huge barriers that girls face in getting active. Some girls, especially those from marginalized communities, never even get the chance to play,” she told PEOPLE. “The more I learned about these barriers — through my work with Nike and Laureus Sport for Good — the more I felt determined to do something about it.”
In a statement, Caitlin Morris, vice president of Social and Community Impact at Nike, said they share Osaka’s belief that play is for everyone.
“Young girls in places like Los Angeles and Haiti may have different social and cultural reasons for why play and sport have been difficult to access, but in the end, they all need an opportunity to play — as well as authentic role models like Naomi, who fully embrace who they are and what they believe in.”
Feature Image Screenshots via Naomi Osaka