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Opinion — Nike’s Olympic kits are an emblem of sports sexism

The sporting giant has come under fire over its women’s Track and Field kits. The backlash is long overdue.

Thred Media
4 min readApr 19, 2024


With the Paris Olympics just months away, major sporting brands are revealing their Olympic kits for the first time.

But Nike got more than it bargained for this week when it shared images of the Team USA Track and Field uniforms. Far from online hype, the launch triggered a swathe of criticism and debate around sexism in sport.

To understand the root of this controversy, let’s start with the kits in question. The men’s outfit includes a tank top and full-length bike shorts in the colours of the American flag. Just your run-of-the-mill Track and Field get-up.

The women’s version, however, is decidedly less…material. With a drastically high-cut crotch and tight fitting silhouette, female athletes will be wearing a skimpy singlet featuring tiny red and blue stripes. The result is a pink-toned swimsuit-style outfit.

Since the images went live, the internet has blown up with angry comments criticising the blatant disparity between Nike’s two designs.

Lauren Fleshman, an American former Track and Field athlete and now author, called out Nike on her Instagram page.

Fleshman was quick to shut down the long standing myth that these tiny outfits are designed for performance, saying, ‘women’s kits should be in service to performance, mentally and physically. If this outfit was truly beneficial to physical performance, men would wear it.’

Comments on Fleshman’s post have pointed out the lack of consideration for women’s bodies showcased by the designs, with Fleshman herself highlighting the ‘mental gymnastics of having every vulnerable piece of your body on display.’

‘Wow! Imagine having your period and having to put that on,’ said one Instagram user. Others have also argued that the kit’s appearance suggests no women were involved in the design process.

‘As if women athletes training for the Olympic games didn’t have enough to worry [about], now they have the anxiety of having to be dressed by a bunch of men who see women as less than human.’

Despite the criticism, however, some netizens have pointed out that this iteration of the Track and Field kit is just one of the many options that will be available to athletes.

‘Before you tear this thing apart, know that each athlete gets three or four different iterations of the uniform. If you don’t like short tights you get regular shorts […] don’t get crazy about seeing one piece of uniform that athletes are gonna get four or five choices from,’ said one comment beneath Fleshman’s post.

Nike itself has also come forward to say the unitard isn’t the only option the brand is offering female athletes. John Hoke, the brand’s ‘chief innovation officer’ told the New York Times that designers created ‘nearly 50 unique pieces’ for the US Track and Field teams.

But this argument still doesn’t account for the fact that men and women are not offered the same outfit options when it comes to competitive sports. As Fleshman put it, ‘if it’s not an option for the men, it’s a problem.’

‘This is a costume born of patriarchal forces’ she wrote. ‘Stop making it harder for half the population.’

Fleshman’s words nod to the larger systemic issue of sexism within athletics. Gendered athletic wear perpetuates harmful stereotypes, and by pigeonholing female athletes into restrictive and revealing attire, we not only undermine their achievements but also contribute to a culture of objectification and commodification.

Athletic wear should prioritise functionality and comfort without sacrificing style or dignity. Gender should not dictate the design of attire; rather, it should celebrate the diverse needs and experiences of all those who wear it.

Other athletes have also chimed in to criticise Nike over the new designs, with some saying the outfit would require a level of hyper-vigilance to make sure they didn’t expose themselves. Understandably, they said they’d prefer to spend that energy focusing on performance.

These concerns were highlighted by journalist Melissa Jacobs, who argued that revealing kits were a driving force behind young girls dropping out of competitive sports more than young boys.

‘[Nike’s] uniforms are a step backwards on multiple levels’ Jacobs said. ‘[…] Empowering is not the first word that comes to mind with a glance at those Nike briefs.’

Arguably, the publicity that these kits have garnered means that Nike wins regardless. Big brands continue making huge profit despite a lack of diversity and inclusion in designs, and while athletes may certainly have the autonomy to make a choice about what they wear at the Olympics, the options handed to them are in need of an overhaul.

Until both male and female athletes are provided with the same kit choices, these conversations will only keep getting louder. And so they should.