WASHINGTON – The US-China Olympic rivalry heated up in an unfashionable way Thursday when a top US lawmaker suggested burning the US team’s outfits for the London opening ceremony because they were made in China.
“I’m so upset. I think the Olympic Committee should be ashamed of themselves,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters when asked about an ABC News report on the origin of the Ralph Lauren-designed uniforms.
“I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them,” an outraged Reid added.
“If they have to wear nothing but a symbol that says USA on it, painted by hand, that is what they should wear.”
It was the strongest of reactions about the outfits heard on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers who often bicker over ways to keep US jobs, including in the textile industry, from heading overseas to low-wage economies like China, Vietnam and India.
There was no immediate reaction from Lauren, 72, or the New York-based house that he founded, which earlier this week unveiled the blue-blazer uniforms and berets that US athletes will wear at the Games’ opening ceremony on July 27.
China is by far the biggest source of textile and apparel imports into the United States.
A Congress that has rarely been so divided was for once, in this bitter election year, united in its condemnation of the US Olympic Committee (USOC).
“You’d think they’d know better,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner said of the fashion kerfuffle during a press briefing.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, his predecessor as speaker, also expressed her disappointment at the fashion faux pas.
“We take great pride in our Olympic athletes,” Pelosi said.
“They represent the very best, and they’re so excellent,” she said.
“It’s all so beautiful, and they should be wearing uniforms that are made in America.”
USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky defended the decision.
“Unlike most Olympic teams around the world, the US Olympic Team is privately funded and we’re grateful for the support of our sponsors,” he said.
“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.”
Sandusky also defended the decision on Twitter, citing Ralph Lauren being an American company while stepping around the manufacturing location issue.
“All this talk about Olympic uniforms made in China is nonsense. Polo RL is an American company that supports American athletes,” his tweet read.
But outraged US Olympic sports fans made their feelings known on the official US Olympic Committee Twitter site.
“talk about denigrating USA athletes,” wrote one fan.
“Bugging me that @RalphLauren couldn’t make the @USOlympic uniforms in the US. God knows there’s plenty of empty factories & qualified pple,” tweeted Mary Marcanotio.
Nick Symmonds, a US Olympic 800-meter runner, tweeted, “Our Ralph Lauren outfits for the Olympic opening ceremonies were made in China. So, um, thanks China.”
Yet another tweeter, college lecturer Bob Gillan, recalled how the US team uniforms at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin had been designed by Roots, a Canadian fashion house.
Irate lawmakers wrote a letter Thursday to USOC chairman Lawrence Probst saying it was “shocking and deeply disappointing” to learn of the China-made uniforms, and calling on the committee to take steps to ensure such an “embarrassment” never happens again.
“We have enormous pride in all of our Olympic athletes and want to ensure they are displaying the same pride we have in our American workers when competing on the world stage,” congressman Steve Israel and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand wrote.