Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka has been open about being inspired by Venus and Serena Williams to become the tennis champ that she is today. After partnering with Nike and Laureus on a Japan-based initiative to do the same and get more girls active in sports, Osaka announced that Play Academy is expanding to Los Angeles and Haiti.
Laureus is a global sporting movement that honors athletes at a yearly award show. Osaka won Laureus’ Breakthrough of the Year award in 2019.
Osaka first launched the collaborative venture in her native Japan last year. The initiative focused on giving grants, training for community organizations, and giving more girls an opportunity to be involved in sports. It’s now expanding to Los Angeles, where she currently lives, and Haiti, which is where her father is from. She is adamant about honoring her Afro-Asian upbringing and girls of color in general.
In Los Angeles, Play Academy will partner with organizations that support girls and focus on Black, Latino and Asian girls in East and South Los Angeles. Meanwhile, they will connect with GOALS Haiti and uplift its mission of helping rural youth through soccer and education. “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 about Play Academy’s expansion. “The more we provide girls with opportunities to get active, the more opportunities we are giving them to become leaders in their communities.”
As of 2020, Osaka is the highest-paid woman in sports and is a four-time Grand Slam singles champion. She was also named one of Sports Illustrated’s Sportspeople of the Year last year.
“[T]here are so many young girls—and especially girls from marginalized communities—who face incredible barriers to play and sport,” Osaka also said to The Root. 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.”
Sports-based organizations can apply for a grant here.