Of all the crimes. Of all the betrayals. Of all the outrages, this was a treasonous low.
When the US Olympic Committee revealed the official uniforms for its team of London-bound athletes, the Ralph Lauren-designed attire was greeted with widespread contempt and disgust. It wasn’t the uniform’s Thunderbird-esqe lines or basic impracticalities (white pants are a nightmare for cranberry juice stains) – but the three little words stitched neatly into the uniform tags.
The 530 athletes representing the US will stride into the Olympic arena a picture of patriotic red, white and blue. But although their uniforms may look all-American, really they’re far from it. The greatest athletes from the most successful Olympic nation in history will be dressed head to toe in uniforms made in China.
For the committee, it was awful PR work. Unemployment in the US is at 8.2 per cent and though awarding the contract to jobless Michigan mums with otherwise wilting Berninas would hardly have stimulated an enormous economic boom, it was naive to think there wouldn’t be a backlash.
Still, compared to the many other uniform-outsourcing nations, including New Zealand, the public response leaned more to the extreme.
Leading the torch-and-pitchfork mob was Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who very reasonably suggested an Olympic uniform solution:
“Put them in a big pile and burn them.”
Never mind that Ralph Lauren apologised, assuring the public that for all future Olympics every item of clothing would be made in the US. Never mind there wasn’t time to bang together an alternative strip. For some politicians it wasn’t enough.
Twelve senators have now co-sponsored a bill which bans foreign-made Olympic uniforms. Forget immigration policies, infrastructural stimulus or banking regulation, athletic uniforms are now a true political priority.
Some still insist the Chinese outfits be scrapped for last-ditch alternatives. They’d rather their athletes go naked than wear the cloth of Communists.
China, for its part, was happy to ratchet up the issue. It cried hypocrisy, and gently suggested that if the uniforms were unacceptable, perhaps all the athletes’ Blackberrys and iPhones could be burned in a giant pile, too.
It is more than a debate about outsourcing. One can’t imagine quite the level of fuss if the uniforms had been stitched in Canada.
If Ralph Lauren had used the same factory as New Zealand’s Olympic Committee and sewn every thread in Italy, I’m not sure there would’ve been calls for an Olympic blazer blaze.
Maybe it’s simply Olympic competition. The US and China will, after all, likely battle it out at the top of the London medals table. Days from the start of the games, China’s already one up.
The analysts at Goldman Sachs have sucked any suspense from the 2012 Olympics by predicting how many medals each country will win. To think you were going to waste hours watching Greco-Roman tiddlywinks and synchronised gumboot-hurling just to see which global super power would out-gold the other?
Their uniforms were made in China, but with four more top-of-the-world spots than their great economic and Olympic rival, 37 gold medallists will be born in the US. Apparently.
By Jack Tame