Nike track and field uniform sparks sexism storm among Olympic athletes

The outfits have been slammed for leaving female atheletes with ‘every vulnerable piece of your body on display’

Emma Guinness
Monday 15 April 2024 13:19 BST
(AFP via Getty Images)

The new US Track & Field kits have come under fire for leaving female athletes ‘exposed’ ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games.

The Nike outfits were slammed by former professional athlete Lauren Fleshman, 42, in a side-by-side comparison post that appears to demonstrate how covered-up male athletes will be compared to female competitors.

While the women will seemingly have to wear a one-piece suit with a small piece of fabric covering their pubic area, the men apparently get to enjoy being almost completely covered up by a pair of thigh-length shorts and a sleeveless top.

Fleshman joked that any woman wearing the one-piece would be forced into a state of “constant pube vigilance”, or, more concerningly, have to navigate “the mental gymnastics of having every vulnerable piece of your body on display.”

The runner dubbed the outfits as an example of the patriarchy’s existence in 2024 and said that women - especially those competing at a professional level - should be free to do so without being sexualised.

She wrote: “If this outfit was truly beneficial to physical performance, men would wear it.

“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.

“I’m queer and I’m attracted to female bodies, but I don’t expect or enjoy seeing female athletes or male athletes put in a position to battle self-consciousness at their place of work.”

However, while the former runner condemned the outfits, a fellow former athlete, Dan O’Brien, said these are just two examples of sportswear from a range that competitors can choose from.

He wrote: “Before you tear this thing apart, know that each athlete gets three or four different iterations of the uniform.

“If you don’t like short tights you get regular shorts if you don’t like the one piece you get a singlet and shorts or a singlet and short tights don’t get crazy about seeing one piece of a uniform that athletes are gonna get four or five choices from.” [sic]

However, Fleshman insisted that the outfit remains a problem because it is not “an option for men”.

The row has erupted ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games
The row has erupted ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Commentators were quick to support Fleshman’s critique of the women’s outfit and some similarly took the opportunity to poke fun at its perceived ridiculousness.

One joked: “I wish an athlete would go full pubes in this just to show how ridiculous it is…”

“There is so possible reason for that design. It has no function,” added a second. “While you look at the men’s, and their groin area is suitably covered and supported. Women’s kits should be similar to the men’s in functionality and look.”

Tara Davis-Woodhall, who placed sixth in the long jump at the 2020 Tokyo Games, echoed these sentiments by writing: “Wait my hoo haa is gonna be out.”

Tara Davis-Woodhall made a horrified joke in response to the outfits
Tara Davis-Woodhall made a horrified joke in response to the outfits (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Fellow athlete and Olympian, Katie Moon, 32, a Nike-sponsored pole vaulter, admitted that while the outfit is “concerning” on a first glance, female athletes are not being forced to wear it - and for some, it might actually be the most convenient option.

She wrote on Instagram: “I absolutely love people defending women, but we have at least 20 different combinations of a uniform to compete in with all the tops and bottoms available to us.

“We DO have the men’s option available to us if we want it.

“When you attack the buns and crop top saying something along the lines of it’s ‘exist’ (which if that was our only choice, it would be), even if it’s with the best of intentions, you’re ultimately attacking our decision as women to wear it.

“And if you honestly think that on the most important days of our careers we’re choosing what we wear to appease the men watching over what we’re most comfortable and confident in, to execute to the best of our abilities, that’s pretty offensive.

Katie Moon has said some female athletes prefer to wear a ‘little fabric’
Katie Moon has said some female athletes prefer to wear a ‘little fabric’ (Getty Images)

“I personally like the buns because I want as little fabric clinging to me when I’m hot and sweaty (which I am at 99% of meets I compete in).”

Nike told Reuters that competitors at the Paris Olympics will have kits that include 50 apparel pieces and 12 competition styles to choose from.

The sportswear brand added that the unitard will be available with both briefs and shorts.

Nike confirmed to The Independent that athletes have a range of options to chose from and “we will also have tailoring options available for Olympic and Paralympic athletes at the games.”

The Independent has reached out to USA Track and Field for comment.

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