Gone are the glory days when the world's superpowers would boycott the Olympic games in their entirety to send a message to a rival. Today, friction between the world's most powerful nations is economic, not nuke-based, and the Olympics is getting an age-appropriate controversy between America and China.
“[T]hey should take all the outfits, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over.” From The Wall Street Journal, that was US Senate Majority Leader and Democrat Harry Reid's response when he learned that Team USA's Ralph Lauren-designed opening ceremony uniforms were "Made in China." Nike, Team China's uniformer, better hope the nation doesn't retaliate with some kind of good old Cold War mutually assured destruction theory.
Reid wasn't done. He added, “If they have to wear nothing but a singlet saying USA on it painted by hand, that’s what they should do.” Meanwhile, the "Made in China" Team USA stink made for a rare show of bipartisan agreement. Republican House Speaker John Boehner said, "You'd think they'd know better."
Responding to the outrage, the U.S. Olympic Committee pointed out that "unlike most Olympic teams around the world, the U.S. Olympic Team is privately funded" and that its uniforms come by way of a donation from Ralph Lauren, not taxpayers. (It seems, if there is a scandal to be had, it should be that the uniforms' Lauren "polo pony" logo is larger than the stars and stripes.)
Reid and Boehner should be happy that Team USA will go to the games with a native brand on its chest. Not so with Team China. In June, Nike unveiled its collection of uniforms for China's Olympic Team:
"Nike’s designs for the Chinese Federation uniforms draw inspiration from China’s rich and vibrant culture, combining Chinese calligraphy with modern architectural design elements. They use simple, powerful and vibrant lines to illustrate Chinese athletes’ strength and confidence. The striking design of the uniforms evokes a strong sense of national pride. Inspired by the lyrics of China’s national anthem, the mantra “Arise, March On” is printed into the neckline of the basketball jersey"
In fact, if anyone has something to be upset about, it's China. The nation has a completely homegrown atheltic wear brand — named after its most famous Olympian no less — that its team is not using: Li-Ning.
The debate over uniforms ignores what's on the athletes' feet. China's world champion hurdler and gold hopeful Liu Xiang wears Nikes. So does Chinese tennis star Li Na. Team USA's star triple jumper Christian Taylor wears Chinese brand Li-Ning.
But then, it is an election year and the "Made in China" scandal fits into the recent ratcheted-up vitriol for what many now perceive as America's enemy.
On Team USA-cheering media outlet Fox, a commentator said, “[China is] so competitive, they probably would have put downers in the fabric to hurt our athletes… I don’t trust them worth a damn, and I tell you, I wouldn’t let anything be done over there.”
It's the latest "China bashing syndrome." One of the biggest attacks on 2012 Republican candidate for president, Mitt Romney, is that he outsourced work to China. And, just in time for the Olympic closing ceremonies, the US will see limited release of the new documentary Death by China:
Oddly enough, the Olympics exist as a place where nations can compete — and compete furiously — in place of real world disputes. One sentiment yet to be expressed, that the two nations just settle it in the field/court/pool/track.