Cries of sexism greet Nike's Olympic reveal.
Cries of sexism greet Nike’s Olympic reveal.

Since the Norwegian women’s beach handball team made the fact that they had to wear very small bikini bottoms to compete into a big deal, women’s sports have been going through a quiet change. In it, the idea of what female players should or shouldn’t wear to perform at their best is called into question.

Cries of sexism greet Nike's Olympic reveal
Cries of sexism greet Nike’s Olympic reveal.

It has affected many other sports, even running.

Nike probably shouldn’t have been surprised when people didn’t like the sneak peeks of the Team U.S.A. track and field uniforms they showed off at an event in Paris on Thursday to celebrate its Air technology. The event also had looks for other Olympic teams, like Kenya’s track and field team, France’s basketball team and Korea’s break dancing delegation.

Men and women alike are upset about Nike's Olympic reveal.
Sha’Carri Richardson. © Dominique Maitre/WWD, via Getty Images

See, Nike picked out two outfits for the mannequins: a men’s compression tank top and mid-thigh-length compression shorts, and a bodysuit for women that was cut very high on the hip. It kind of looked like a sporty take on a workout outfit from the 1980s. The bodysuit looked like it would need a lot of difficult personal care when it was shown.

A running news website called Citius Mag put a picture of the uniforms on Instagram, and a lot of its fans didn’t like it.

First Look: SA TRACK AND FIELD KITS UNVEILED BY NIKE FOR 2024 PARIS OLYMPICS
First Look: SA TRACK AND FIELD KITS UNVEILED BY NIKE FOR 2024 PARIS OLYMPICS

One person wrote, “What man designed the woman’s cut?”

While someone else wrote, “I hope U.S.A.T.F. is paying for the bikini waxes,” That’s how most of the more than 1,900 responses went.

It turned out that the athlete’s bag also had hair spray, lip gloss, and a “hysterectomy kit” so the women wouldn’t have to worry about their periods. In an Instagram video, running comedian Laura Green pretended to be trying on the outfit (“We’re feeling pretty, um, breezy,” she said) and looking at the rest of the bag.

If you asked Nike directly about the fuss, they didn’t answer. But John Hoke, the company’s chief innovation officer, said that the bodysuit for women and the shorts and top for men are just two of the choices they will have for their Olympic runners. Mr. Hoke said there are “nearly 50 unique pieces for men and women, as well as a dozen competition styles that have been fine-tuned for specific events.”

Girls and women can wear bodysuits with shorts instead of bikinis if they want to. They can wear a crop top or tank top with the shorts. The whole set of looks wasn’t shown in Paris, but more will be shown next week at the New York meeting of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s media. The Paris show was just a sneak peek.

Besides that, Mr. Hoke said that Nike talks to a lot of players at every stage of making the uniforms. Sha’Carri Richardson and Athing Mu are on its track and field team. Richardson was wearing the compression shorts during the Paris introduction. There are also walkers who like the high-cut brief. Dina Asher-Smith, a British Olympic sprinter and another Nike athlete, told The New York Times last summer that she prefers to run in shorts and leotards instead of two-pieces.

But Nike missed the point when it chose those two looks as the main preview for Team U.S.A. instead of, say, the matching shorts and tanks that will also be available. By doing this, Nike reinforced a long-standing unfairness in sports: the fact that a female athlete’s body is shown off more than a male athlete’s.

“Why is this sexualized outfit being held up as the best example?”

“Good for a Girl” author and U.S. national champion distance runner Lauren Fleshman said.

“Partly because we think that’s how we can make the most money from sponsors or NIL opportunities, most of which are given out by powerful men or people who look at it through a male lens.” But women are setting new ratings records in sports where you don’t have to wear much more than a swimming suit.

There are two problems with this kind of picture. Nike’s choice to show off the high-cut bodysuit as the first Olympic outfit sent a message to everyone watching that “this is what excellence looks like,” Ms. Fleshman said.

Young athletes pick up on this idea and use it as the model that girls think they need to follow, even though their relationships with their bodies are already pretty tense at the time.
In a broader sense, the current political discussion about women’s bodies makes the idea that they are public property even stronger.

Even so, Ms. Fleshman said, “I’m glad Nike put this picture out there as the crown jewel of Olympic Team design,” because it might start a long-overdue discussion.

She said, “If you showed this outfit to someone from the W.N.B.A. or women’s football, they would laugh in your face.” “We should no longer have to make it normal for track and field.” That’s no longer possible.

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