Reporting Steve Grzanich
CHICAGO (CBS) – The U.S. Olympic athletes are made in America, but their uniforms are made in China. The revelation sparked controversy Thursday that brought angry reaction from the highest levels of government in the U.S.
“I am so upset,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “I think the Olympic committee should be ashamed of themselves. I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them.”
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“You’d think they’d know better,” said House Speaker John Boehner.
Ralph Lauren and his American-based company Polo designed the red, white and blue outfits, but outsourced production of the clothing to China. Team USA athletes will wear the uniforms during the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in London later this month.
U.S. Olympic Committee leaders, gathered in Chicago for Thursday night’s Olympic Hall of Fame induction ceremony, reacted with surprise and disappointment to the growing controversy.
“All this talk about Olympic uniforms made in China is nonsense,” said USOC Communications Director Patrick Sandusky. “Polo-Ralph Lauren is an American company that supports American athletes.”
The uniforms include red and navy ties, double-breasted blazers, and cuffed cream-colored trousers. The total cost of each uniform ranges from $1,500 to $1,900, but athletes do not pay for the clothing themselves.
“These are great uniforms that represent our team well, our American team. This is a company that employs thousands of people in the U.S., supporting their brand and supporting our team,” Sandusky said.
“The U.S. Olympic team is privately funded, and we’re grateful for the support of our sponsors,” Sandusky added. “We’re not in the business of taking money away from our athletes, we’re in the business of giving money to our athletes. This is a sponsor relationship, and a sponsor who’s there to support Team USA and bring that team, that doesn’t get any government funding, to the Olympic games.”
Two Team USA athletes from the Chicago-area, reached by WBBM Newsradio, declined to comment on the record about the controversy but one said “It’s not really about the uniforms, it’s about us and what we represent.”
This is not the first time that Team USA uniforms have been produced in other countries. Ralph Lauren also designed the clothing for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and outsourced then to China as well. At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, a Canadian company produced Team USA clothing.
In Washington this week, lawmakers have been focused on a “Make it in America Initiative,” aimed at developing legislation to spur production and manufacturing in the U.S.