Tennis phenom Naomi Osaka is furthering her efforts to empower youth through sports. According to People, the four-time Grand Slam singles champion is expanding her sports academy to Haiti and Los Angeles.
Play Academy with Nike and Laureus Sport for Good was unveiled in Japan last year. The academy was designed to eliminate the socio-economic barriers that stand in the way of sports participation for youth by teaming up with local organizations to aid them in creating accessibility. The academy provides the organizations with grants and training to drive efforts forward.
Osaka’s Play Academy will team up with GOALS Haiti—an organization centered on advancing youth leadership by merging sports and education—for the Haiti-based effort. In Haiti, the country where her father hails from, Osaka wants the mission of the academy to be rooted in the empowerment of girls and is aiming to cultivate safe spaces where they can develop a solid foundation of self-confidence. She hopes to do the same for Play Academy’s Los Angeles arm and is putting the focus on using sports as a vessel to uplift girls from communities of color.
Osaka says the creation of the academies stems from her personal experiences in the realm of sports and the inequities that she has witnessed. “Growing up I dreamed about winning Grand Slams and becoming number one in the world,” she said in a statement, according to the news outlet. “While it was not easy, my family was dedicated to helping me get the access I needed to reach my goals. But unfortunately, not all girls have the same opportunities that I did. There are huge barriers that girls face in getting active. Some girls, especially those from marginalized communities, never even get the chance to play. 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.”
Efforts like the one being led by Osaka are needed. Research shows girls are more likely to have never played sports compared to boys and economic barriers surrounding sports participation persist.