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Why Nike’s Team USA Olympics Outfits Have Drawn Criticism From Women Athletes

Nike has drawn criticism from athletes after it released its first look at the women’s track and field uniforms designed for Team USA at the upcoming Paris Olympics. The sportswear company unveiled the outfits at a Paris event, which were initially posted by media company Citius Mag.

The outfits feature a high-cut bikini line, which seemingly doesn’t offer much coverage as seen on the mannequin. In contrast, the male version of the uniform features mid-thigh length shorts.

“This mannequin is standing still and everything’s showing…imagine mid flight,” Paralympian track and field athlete Jaleen Roberts commented under a Citius Mag Instagram post.

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Other athletes criticized the outfit for being the product of sexism in sports.

“Professional athletes should be able to compete without dedicating brain space to constant pube vigilance or the mental gymnastics of having every vulnerable piece of your body on display,” former US track and field athlete Lauren Fleshman wrote in an Instagram post.

“Women’s kits should be in service to performance, mentally and physically. If this outfit was truly beneficial to physical performance, men would wear it,” she added. “This is not an elite athletic kit for track and field. This is a costume born of patriarchal forces that are no longer welcome or needed to get eyes on women’s sports.”

This sentiment echoes prior controversy at the Tokyo Olympics, during which the German women’s gymnastics team refused to wear bikini-cut unitards, according to CNN. At the time, the German Gymnastics Federation called athletes’ rebuttal a statement against “sexualization.”

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Nike responded to the online criticism by highlighting that the uniforms were designed in direct partnership with athletes.

“Working directly with athletes throughout every stage of the design process, Nike designed garments to ensure fit across a range of body types and style preferences, and infused real-time feedback throughout the entire product-development cycle,” John Hoke, Nike’s Chief Innovation Officer, said in a press release.

Olympian Gabby Thomas said athletes are customarily consulted when designing official uniforms.

“At World Championships I remember they had an area where athletes could try stuff on and give their feedback, so athletes were definitely consulted,” she told Yahoo Sports. “That’s why I think everyone was a little shocked when they saw the photo, because athletes wouldn’t have signed off on how that looked, but it doesn’t look like that in person.”

“I love competing in the briefs, I love wearing as little clothes as possible just because you’re sweaty, being really active and moving,” she added. “But we also have the option to wear any uniform we want. We could wear the men’s uniform if we wanted.”

Both Nike and USA Track and Field noted that there are up to 50 pieces available for athletes to choose from.

“Athletes can choose outfits that match their style and personal preference without sacrificing comfort during the games in Paris,” the sportswear company said in the same press release mentioned earlier, adding that tailoring options will be offered.

“Athlete options and choices were the driving force for USATF in the planning process with Nike,” USATF said in a statement, per CNN. “USATF is also aware that Nike consulted with athletes throughout the design process to ensure that all athletes are comfortable and that the uniforms are well-suited for their respective events.