Two weeks before the opening of the London Olympics, the big buzz over the Games has reached the political arena in the United States. And it is not about sports, but about… clothes. In a rare show of unity in this election year, Democrats and Republicans have expressed their outrage after media reports revealed that the US Olympic team’s opening ceremony outfits are made in China, suggesting a lack of patriotism.
“I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said. Team USA will be marching into the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony wearing Ralph Lauren blazers and berets, much as they did four years ago in Beijing when Lauren dressed them. At that time the uniforms were also manufactured in China.
In a highly charged political atmosphere in which the economy and jobs could be the deal breaker in November’s presidential elections, Reid was uncompromising. He said that the US Olympic committee (USOC) should be “ashamed of themselves,” and “embarrassed,” that the items were made in China, especially with people in the textile industry in America who are looking for jobs. Lawmakers from New York, where much of the US textile industry is clustered, wrote an angry letter to the USOC, calling the “Made in China” revelation “shocking and deeply disappointing” and asking all US team’s uniforms be made in America in the future.
Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, who has legislation pending in Congress to strengthen “Buy America” provisions, also sent a letter to the USOC calling for the committee to scrap this year’s uniforms and find a domestic manufacturer to remake them. “The USOC holds its athletes to a high moral and ethical standard, and has a no tolerance policy for cheating or violating rules,” Brown writes. “But China continues to cheat when it comes to international trade. As we work to achieve a level playing field for American manufacturers and workers, the USOC should act immediately to find a domestic manufacturer for this year’s uniforms.”
The USOC rejected the criticism and defended its sponsor: “Unlike most Olympic teams around the world, the US Olympic Team is privately funded and we’re grateful for the support of our sponsors,” a spokesman said in a statement. “We’re proud of our partnership with Ralph Lauren, an iconic American company, and excited to watch America’s finest athletes compete at the upcoming Games in London.” The Ralph Lauren Company chose not to comment on this row. It merely said in an online statement, that it is “a privilege” to be the outfitter of the American team at the London Olympics.
Those who will wear the uniforms, the athletes, seemed to be laser-focused on final preparations rather than on the dispute over clothes. Swim star Dana Torres said that it would be nice, if the outfit were made in the United States. But then: “Ralph Lauren did a great job.”
_Dr. Stefan Grobe_