Team GB flag fury is just the latest Olympic kit controversy

From ‘dizzy designs’ to an ‘accentuated crotch’ – kit drama is an unofficial fixture of the Olympic Games (Picture: Katie Ingam)

This week, the British Olympic Association (BOA) came under fire after changing the traditional colour of the Union flag.

Shades of pink and sky blue were incorporated into a new design, in a bid to rejigg the traditional red, white and blue.

British javelin star Fatima Whitbread was left ‘disgusted’ at the changes while former England keeper Peter Shilton fumed: ‘nothing is sacred’ in response to the news.

The backlash came after a change to the St George’s Cross on England’s Euro 2024 kit caused similar uproar in March, after Nike had added a ‘playful update’ via the means of purple and blue stripes. Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer were united in their disapproval and called for the design to be changed.

Meanwhile Labour’s shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry had told Sky News: ‘You wouldn’t expect Nike to go off and have a look at the Welsh flag and decide to change the dragon to a pussycat.’

As pitchforks continue to be sharpened in relation to the decision to change colours on a piece of fabric, we look back at kit controversies, scandals and gaffes from across the sporting world.

No doubt, there will be more to add to the list this summer, when the Paris Summer Olympics start on July 26.

2012: Team GB’s Stella McCartney kit deemed ‘too Scottish’

Chris Hoy during the London 2012 Olympics

Sir Chris Hoy celebrates winning Gold in the Men’s Keirin Track Cycling Final on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 7, 2012(Picture: by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Stella McCartney’s Team GB design received backlash the moment it was released in 2012. The final product was ‘too blue’ in the eyes of critics, with the red confined to socks and collars.

Others felt it was ‘more Scottish than British.’ Perhaps a premonition, as the 2012 games did result in a wave of Scottish success, with the likes of tennis player Andy Murray, rower Katherine Grainger and track cyclist Chris Hoy winning gold.

McCartney had brushed off the backlash to her kits and explained the design challenges involved in creating a design for 900 athletes across 46 sports. She said Tom Daley’s ‘little thing’ for diving, for example, meant ‘there wasn’t a lot of space to work with.’

2012: Spain kits branded ‘Olympic kit horror show’

In 2012, Spain’s Olympic Committee (COE) had worked with a Russian company Bosco who had, bizarrely, offered to design the Spanish uniform for free. At a time when Europe was gripped by the financial crisis, the sporting authorities gladly accepted the offer of a freebie. 

They perhaps were not expecting the final result, a messy mix of red and yellow with a garish matching bag and cap. In London, the kit sold out in many stores. But on home soil, it was a different story. The outfit was branded a ‘horror show’ and an embarrassment to fashionable Spaniards everywhere.

Ahead of the London Olympics, Spanish Canoeist Saul Craviotto had tweeted: ‘At home trying on the Olympic clothes. Best I don’t comment…’ Meanwhile Spain’s fashion industry association, Acme, described Bosco’s kit design as ‘most unfortunate.’ 

But Spanish Olympic committee chairman, Alejandro Blanco was nonplussed by the backlash. He had said: ‘The contract [with Bosco] saves the state at least €8m (£6.5m), so I don’t understand the controversy.’]

2018: ‘Accentuated’ crotch area for Team USA

TEAM USA speed skating team in a kit which has a grey circle on the crotch area

Team USA win bronze during the PyeongChang Olympic Games, South Korea, 21 February 2018 (Picture: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

As stressed by Stella McCartney, it’s not easy to create an Olympic design suitable for all sports. The final creation needs to work for divers, footballers and every athlete in between.

If a flag has limited colours, that makes the challenge even harder. Like the UK, Team USA has routinely experimented with ways to make their red, white and blue that little bit different. But in 2018, at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, their gamble went too far in the eyes of viewers. ‘Was this the worst uniform at the Winter Olympics?’ the Sydney Morning Herald had queried. 

Under Armour’s bash at Team USA’s speed skating uniforms, worn by the men’s and women’s teams, had attracted unwanted attention online for a strange circle on the lower half of the kit. It, as Twitter put it, ‘accentuated the crotch.’

‘The crotch coloring on Team USA’s speed skating suits is very unfortunate,’ one Twitter user had said.

Under Armour claimed this was done on purpose, telling Bustle: ‘The material is specially designed to reduce friction. The skaters love the complete look and performance of the new skins.’

2021: Team USA’s Ralph Loren uniform ‘too white’

A crisp look was unveiled in 2021 ahead of the Tokyo Olympics (held belatedly due to the pandemic.)

Ralph Loren’s final creation included roomy pockets, navy collars and red, white and blue cuffs. The design was to be worn in the Olympic Village and at the Games’ closing ceremony. The outfits featured a patriotic American flag patch on one arm and ‘USA’ emblazoned on the other and down one trouser leg.

But after the kit was unveiled on Twitter, it quickly became ridiculed due to a lack of diversity in the photos chosen.

‘These people are all named Chad and all of their daddies are lawyers’, was the comment from one Twitter user. Another added: ‘The outfits look like their dads payed their child’s way out of a DUI.’

The athletes seemed less fussed, however. Olympic swimmer Nathan Adrian – who admittedly did happen to be a Ralph Lauren brand ambassador at the time – defended the outfits and said they were ‘quintessential American-style clothing.’

2012: ‘Ugly’ Russian kit so bad it makes fans ‘dizzy’

Russian athletes in a bright and garish red and white kit

Russia’s bronze medalists Andrey Grechin, Nikita Lobintsev, Vladimir Morozov and Danila Izotov celebrate on the podium the men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay swimming event on July 29, 2012 (Picture: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia is no stranger to Olympic controversies. While law authorities have taken stringent action on the nation’s doping scandal, the fashion police have also been out in full force in their Games’ history.

In 2012, a swirly red and white design was created by Bosco – yes, the same Bosco behind Spain’s controversial kit – for the Russia team. But the garish creation made fans feel ‘dizzy’. It was soon branded the ‘Worst Kit In Olympic History.’

Spanish athletes, perhaps keen to take the spotlight away from their own gaudy kits, had loudly voiced their disdain towards the Russian equivalent.

‘Looking forward to seeing [tennis player] Feliciano Lopez wearing the official Olympic uniform. He’ll never have worn anything so ugly in his life,’ former tennis number one Carlos Moya had tweeted. 

‘There are no adjectives’, Spanish hockey player Alex Fabregas had added when trying to find something positive to say about the Russian kit.

2012: Calls to ‘burn’ USA’s Ralph Loren kit

Swimmer Ryan Lochte, decathlete Bryan Clay, rower Giuseppe Lanzone and soccer player Heather Mitts modeling the the official Team USA Opening Ceremony Parade Uniform.

Swimmer Ryan Lochte, decathlete Bryan Clay, rower Giuseppe Lanzone and soccer player Heather Mittsmodeling the the official Team USA Opening Ceremony Parade Uniform (Picture: AP)

Ralph Loren, who had started working with Team USA in 2008, first came under fire in 2012 in relation to his Olympics designs. Ahead of the London Games, it emerged his blazer and beret-themed design for the London Olympics was manufactured in China. Republicans and Democrats came together to condemn the decision.

But China soon hit back at the anger, with the Xinhua news agency branding the backlash ‘hypocritical’ and ‘irresponsible’. The group singled out the-then Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, who had called for the uniforms to be piled up and ‘burned’.

‘If there is anything that should be burned, it should really be the hypocrisy of the US politics,’ Xinhua said in a statement.

2020: Australian caught in ‘shameful’ Olympic uniform row

Athletes pose during the Australian Olympic Team Tokyo 2020 uniform unveiling at the Overseas Passenger Terminal on March 31, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Picture: Hanna Lassen/Getty Images)

In echoes of Ralph Loren’s 2012 fashion fumble, the Australian Olympic Committee faced similar backlash eight years later at Tokyo’s Games. ASICS-branded sportswear was used for the athletes’ uniforms, which contained cotton from the Xinjiang region in China. 

Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, had branded the Aussie kits ‘disgusting and shameful.’ The range had featured iconic Australian green and gold colour schemes with Japanese origami inspired graphics peppered throughout.

At the time, there was a global row over forced-labour cotton in the Xinjiang region of China, as well as the country’s treatment of Uyghurs and people from other Muslim groups. Several major fashion brands had vowed to no longer use cotton from Xinjiang in protest.

After some confusion, ASICS claimed the Australian Olympic Team uniform did not contain cotton sourced from Xinjiang after all. Australia ended up leaving Tokyo with 46 medals with 17 of them gold, equalling their best total from Athens 2004 along with 7 silver and 22 bronze.

2024: Fans banned from personalising controversial German kit 

A 44 German shirt which caused controversy

Adidas say the DFB are responsible for the design of numbers (Picture: Adidas)

It’s not just Olympic kits that have caused a stir. Germany host Euro 2024 this summer but their Adidas-designed kit has gone viral on social media for all the wrong reasons with fans highlighting the vital design flaw.

The number 44 on Germany’s shirt has some resemblance to the symbol used by World War Two-era Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) units. The SS played a central role in the Gestapo, Hitler’s secret police, and the Holocaust, where millions of Jews and others were put to death in extermination camps.

Historian Michael Konig had first raised the symbolism issue and felt that the design was ‘very questionable’ while Health Minister Karl Lauterbach labelled the decision ‘wrong’.

Adidas ‘strongly rejected any suggestions’ it was intentional and have decided to block personalisation of shirts, banning fans from buying kits with the number 44.

2014: Flesh coloured cycling kit investigated

Members of the Women's Colombian Cycling Team who Participated in the Tour of Tuscany wearing a skin coloured kit

Members of the Women’s Colombian Cycling Team who Participated in the Tour of Tuscany in Italyin Bogota Colombia 17 September 2014 (Picture: Leonardo Munoz/EPA/REX/Shutterstock)

If you thought crotch-gate was bad, wait until you see this kit creating for the Colombian women’s cycling team in 2014. The uniform featured a questionable flesh-coloured section from the stomach to the top of the thighs. Twitter users branded the outfit ‘humiliating’ and ‘demeaning’ for the athletes, with similar backlash towards the men’s version.

As Cosmopolitan put it, the group of women looked ‘a bit like they are wearing giant flesh-coloured pants over their clothes.’

Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, had said the kit was ‘unacceptable by any standard of decency’ and said it was ‘on the case’ with an investigation. For many furious, they felt the women had been forced into wearing the degrading outfit.

But a major plot twist suggested otherwise. ‘One of the riders appears to have designed it without the intent on making it look as though they were partially nude,’ Colombian cycling journalist Klaus Bellon reportedly told BBC World Service.

‘People in Colombia have tried to protect and stand up for the women who are being made fun of for something that wasn’t intended at all.’

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing Kirsten.Robertson@metro.co.uk 

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