On Olympic Uniform Issue: Congress Wears the Emperor’s New Clothes
(Editor’s Note. The heated controversy about the American Olympic team’s China-made Ralph Lauren clothing, caused by the political hypocrisy in the run-up to the U.S. Presidential Elections, has led to an embarrassing discovery. After Philip Hersh had joined battle with the protests of Washington lawmakers in a drastic commentary in the Chicago Tribune, one of the paper’s readers presented a photo of a polo shirt of the U.S. Coast Guard – Made in China).
I have just five words for the members of Congress whose skivvies are in a sweatt over the news that the U.S. Olympic team’s Ralph Lauren parade uniforms for the London Olympics were made in China. Put up or shut up.
Or seven words. Put your money where your mouths are.
Until the U.S. government starts providing funds for Olympic athletes, as every other government in the world does, Congress has no truck telling the U.S. Olympic Committee where to get its uniforms or where they should be made.
That Polo Ralph Lauren, a USOC sponsor through 2020, felt enough pressure to announce Friday that (via the USOC, which took more of the heat) it would make the U.S. team’s 2014 Winter Olympic uniforms in the United States is beside the point.
What happens beyond 2014 is unclear. And I suspect if the label police searched the closets and dresser drawers of every member of Congress and their immediate families from now to 2020, they would likely find that more than a few of the critics and other members of Congress have some clothing that was not made in the USA. (Think any members of Congress might have a Sony TV made in Japan, an Apple product made in China or some Nike athletic gear made in Southeast Asia?)
This is all election year grandstanding, a populist pandering from both sides of the aisle, with Democrats leading the rhetorical charge. Could that be a ploy to show their party is siding with the common man against corporations like Ralph Lauren that appeal to high-end buyers? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was apoplectic, telling reporters at a Thursday news conference, “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.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, more calmly, “You’d think they’d know better.”
That is the same John Boehner who opposed the bailout of General Motors, whose financial crisis undoubtedly contributed to its ending a long-term sponsor relationship with the USOC. None of the other U.S. automakers – all struggling at the time – leaped into the breach when GM exited. The German carmaker BMW became the USOC’s new automotive sponsor. When that deal was announced two years ago, there was no hue and cry (and no presidential election, either.)
BMW builds some vehicles in the United States. Ralph Lauren is a U.S. company that employs people in the United States.
There are a lot of reasons to criticize the USOC (although many fewer of late). I recently called the organization out on its salaries, writing, “If I were among the vast majority of U.S. Olympians who struggle to make ends meet, I would be taken aback by the salaries of U.S. Olympic Committee staff members listed in the 2011 USOC tax filing made public today.”
I get the symbolism of a U.S. Olympic team being outfitted in foreign-made clothes. Is Congress now going to insist Ralph Lauren use only fabric made in the USA? Maybe it should have importuned a U.S. clothing company that outsources no manufacturing or buys no foreign fabric to become the USOC’s apparel sponsor and provider.
After all, it had plenty of time to think about the issue, since the Canadian company Roots outfitted U.S. teams in 2002 and 2004, and Roots outsources some manufacturing to Asia. There was no hyperbolic reaction to Roots, because who can get mad at Canada? In fact, the beret Roots made for the U.S. team in 2002 was the must-have souvenir at the Salt Lake City Olympics.
That makes the current uproar look like a convenient way to use the Chinese as a bogeyman. While there are more than enough reasons to see China as a bad guy – including pollution and Human Rights violations – this should not be one of them.
The members of Congress outraged by the Olympic uniforms might want to check themselves in the mirror. Many might realize they are wearing the emperor’s new clothes.
This article appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. This blog is published by Karl-Huba in Lorsch, Germany. Mr. Huba can be reached via email at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission.