Tokyo Summer Olympics Uniform Controversies

While the Tokyo Summer Olympics have already had several issues among its organizers and with its handling of COVID-19, a few other controversies have sprung up within some athletes’ Olympic uniforms.

Several controversies regarding racism, sexism and human rights violations have made headlines in the lead-up to the Tokyo Games, ranging from Norway’s women’s beach handball team wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms during a game to Australia’s official uniform potentially being made with Xinjiang cotton, which is linked to forced labor and major human rights violations.

Here, WWD rounds up some of the controversies surrounding the Tokyo Summer Olympics uniforms. Read on for more.

Germany’s Women’s Gymnastics Team 

Tokyo Summer Olympics Uniform Controversies

Sarah Voss, Pauline Schaefer, Elisabeth Seitz and Kim Bui from Germany at the Olympics women’s gymnastics qualification round.  Marijan Murat/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Germany’s women’s gymnastics team made a stand against the sexualization of their sport during the qualifications round on Sunday by opting to wear full-body suits instead of the standard leotard.

Gymnasts Sarah Voss, Pauline Schaefer, Elisabeth Seitz and Kim Bui appeared at the event wearing matching red and white fully-body suits featuring the embellished details typically seen on gymnasts’ leotards.

Seitz spoke about the decision to the Washington Post, stating: “We wanted to show that every woman, everybody, should decide what to wear.”

Voss also commented on the team’s uniforms to BBC, stating: “We hope gymnasts uncomfortable in the usual outfits will feel emboldened to follow our example.”

Some members of Germany’s women’s gymnastics team had already worn the full-body suits at the European Gymnastics Championship in April as part of their protest.

The German Gymnastics Federation commented about the athletes’ decision following the championship event, stating the gymnastics’ uniforms were to “present themselves aesthetically, without feeling uncomfortable” and they were a message “against sexualization in gymnastics.”

Norway’s Women’s Beach Handball Team

Spectators were upset over a ruling against Norway’s women’s beach handball team on July 20, where the female athletes were fined over their decision to wear shorts instead of the required bikini bottoms during a game at the European Championship.

The European Handball Federation fined each player 150 euros (roughly $177), equaling a total fine of 1,500 euros.

While male handball players are permitted to wear tank tops and shorts, female players are required to wear midriff tops and bikini bottoms.

The Norwegian team will be paying the fine; however, they’ve been campaigning to change the sport’s dress code since 2006 and will continue their fight through the Olympics.

The team informed the federation prior to the game that they would be wearing the shorts instead of bikini bottoms in order to make a statement against the sport’s dress code. The team wrote about the decision in an Instagram post shared on Tuesday, stating: “We are also very proud about making a statement in the bronze final by playing in shorts instead of required bikini bottoms! We are overwhelmed by the attention and support from all over the world! Thank you so much to all the people who support us and help spread the message! We really hope this will result in a change of this nonsense rule!”

Soul Cap

There was uproar in early July among athletes and fans when the International Swimming Federation (also known as FINA) put a ban on Soul Cap, a Black-owned company that creates larger swim caps that better accommodates and protects natural hair.

Soul Cap’s founders, Michael Chapman and Toks Ahmed-Salawudeen, spoke with BBC earlier this month on the ban, stating that the federation rejected their product because to their “best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration.”

They also stated the ban is due to the Soul Cap not following the “natural form of the head.”

The founders further commented on the ban on the Soul Cap Instagram page, writing: “For younger swimmers, feeling included and seeing yourself in a sport at a young age is crucial. FINA’s recent dismissal could discourage many younger athletes from pursuing the sport as they progress through local, county and national competitive swimming.”

Due to the backlash, the federation is reviewing the ban and issued a statement that read in part: “FINA is committed to ensuring that all aquatics athletes have access to appropriate swimwear for competition where this swimwear does not confer a competitive advantage. FINA is currently reviewing the situation with regards to Soul Cap and similar products, understanding the importance of inclusivity and representation.”


The Australian Olympic committee faced backlash earlier this year when it revealed its official Olympics uniforms would be designed by sports brand Asics. The brand, among many others, was caught up in controversy over potentially using cotton from Xinjiang, a region in China that’s home to a large population of Turkic Uyghur people, in the uniforms.

Xinjiang and its cotton have been engulfed in controversy since a 2020 report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute was released, which identified 27 factories in the nine Chinese provinces using over 80,000 Uyghur people as forced laborers between 2017 and 2019. The increased attention on the Xinjiang cotton encouraged the U.S. to issue a ban on the material in January.

Asics and the Australian Olympic Committee faced criticism when the official uniforms were released in March, facing questions over the usage of the Xinjiang cotton. Backlash ensued when Asics released a statement on social media in China about using the material, stating that the company would continue to buy cotton from Xinjiang despite other companies ending their usage.

Asics later released another statement on the cotton and Australian uniforms that backtracked the original.

“We are currently clarifying that the statement in question was unauthorized as is not our official corporate position on this matter,” the statement read. “And we can confirm that the Australian Olympic Team uniform does not contain cotton sourced from Xinjiang and was not manufactured in this region.”

Paralympian Olivia Breen

Ahead of the Tokyo Summer Games, Paralympic athlete Olivia Breen spoke out against a female official at the English Championships who told her her briefs were too short and inappropriate.

“She was like, ‘your briefs are too revealing. I think you should buy a pair of shorts,’” Breen said during an interview with Sky News on Tuesday. “I didn’t know what to say. I just looked speechless and I just said to her, ‘are you joking?’ And she said ‘no, I think you should consider buying a pair of shorts.’ I just looked at my teammate and I just didn’t know what to say. [The officials] just shouldn’t tell us what we can and can’t wear. I’ve been wearing these for nine years of my career and I’ve never had a problem like this before.”

Breen also wrote about the incident on Twitter, speculating if the same criticism would be given to a male athlete.

“[The incident] made me question whether a male competitor would be similarly criticized,” she wrote. “I hope no other female athletes had similar issues. I recognize that there needs to be regulations and guidelines in relation to competition kit, but women should not be made to feel self-conscious about what they are wearing when competing, but should feel comfortable and at ease.”

Breen hopes that she can continue wearing the briefs when competing at the Tokyo Paralympics in August.


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