WASHINGTON — The uniforms for U.S. Olympic athletes are American red, white and blue — but made in China. That has members of Congress fuming.
Republicans and Democrats railed Thursday about the U.S. Olympic Committee's decision to dress the U.S. team in Chinese manufactured berets, blazers and pants while the American textile industry struggles economically with many U.S. workers desperate for jobs.
“I am so upset. I think the Olympic committee should be ashamed of themselves. I think they should be embarrassed. I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said at a Capitol Hill news conference on taxes.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference that she's proud of the nation's Olympic athletes, but “they should be wearing uniforms that are made in America.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said simply of the USOC, “You'd think they'd know better.”
In a statement, the U.S. Olympic Committee defended the choice of designer Ralph Lauren for the clothing at the London Games, which begin later this month.
Team privately funded
“Unlike most Olympic teams around the world, the U.S. Olympic Team is privately funded and we're grateful for the support of our sponsors,” USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said in a statement. “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.”
Ralph Lauren also is dressing the Olympic and Paralympic teams for the closing ceremony and providing casual clothes to wear in the Olympic Village. Nike has made many of the competition uniforms for the U.S. and outfits for the medal stand.
On Twitter, Sandusky called the outrage over the made-in-China uniforms nonsense. The designer, Sandusky wrote, “financially supports our team. An American company that supports American athletes.”
Ralph Lauren's company declined to comment on the criticism.
In fact, this is not the first time that Ralph Lauren has designed the Olympic uniforms. Yet that did little to quell the anger on Capitol Hill.
Vacant jobs in U.S.
“It is not just a label, it's an economic solution,” said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y. “Today there are 600,000 vacant manufacturing jobs in this country and the Olympic committee is outsourcing the manufacturing of uniforms to China? That is not just outrageous, it's just plain dumb. It is self-defeating.”
Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., separately sent letters to Lawrence Probst III, chairman of the USOC, complaining about the made-in-China uniforms. Brown said the USOC find a manufacturer with a facility in the U.S., suggesting the Hugo Boss plant in Cleveland.
“There is no compelling reason why all of the uniforms cannot be made here on U.S. soil at the same price, at better quality,” Gillibrand wrote along with Israel.