When Team USA descends on London for the 2012 Olympics later this month, the thousands of athletes will have their sights set on coming home with a gold medal.
But for many watching at home, their eyes won’t be able to look past the uniforms our Olympians will be wearing at the opening ceremonies.
The blue blazer and white slacks combination designed by Ralph Lauren has created a firestorm that’s been led by Congress because they were not Made in America, but in China. Photos of the uniforms were posted on the designer’s Facebook page on July 11 and have received over 4,500 “likes” but also included many users furious with where they were manufactured.
In a report by the Associated Press, both Democrats and Republicans ripped the United States Olympic Committee for choosing to go with uniforms manufactured overseas, rather than opting for a job-creating opportunity in the United States, especially in a struggling economy.
“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. “If they have to wear nothing but a singlet that says USA on it, painted by hand, then that’s what they should wear.”
An ABC News report revealed that $1 billion could have been kept from heading overseas if American firms were selected to make the clothing.
From a communications standpoint, having Congress shed light on the fact that your organization didn’t keep business at home in the ultimate patriotic sporting event, and when the nation’s economy is in flux, could result in a wave of bad press.
But the U.S. Olympic Committee has stood firm in its decision. In a statement to the AP, the USOC said: "Unlike most Olympic teams around the work, the U.S. Olympic team is privately funded and we're grateful for the support of our sponsors." Patrick Sandusky, USOC chief communications and public affairs officer, said on his Twitter page: “All this talk about olympic uniforms made in China is nonsense. Polo RL is an American company that supports American athletes.”
Ralph Lauren has declined comment.
By standing by its decision and responding quickly, the USOC hopes to quickly put to bed an issue that wil likely be forgotten once competition starts. It’s also conceivable that, in an election year, anything to bring to light jobs and the economy, good or bad, will be debated.
For PR pros, an understanding of the situation and properly responding is a gold medal-winning formula.
Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson