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USOC: It's too late to remake Team USA uniforms for London Games

By Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
July 14, 2012 -- Updated 1944 GMT (0344 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The USOC says "apparel distribution" for athletes begins this weekend
  • The committee says uniforms will be made in America for the 2014 Games
  • Rep. Steve Israel says he is disappointed the uniforms will not be remade
  • Ralph Lauren promises to lead the industry conversation on American manufacturing

(CNN) -- The U.S. Olympic Committee says it is too late to remake uniforms that sport "Made in China" labels for the London Games, though vowed Team USA would march in clothing made in America during the opening of the 2014 Winter Games.

The announcement Friday was an about face by the USOC a day after it defended the use of the Ralph Lauren designer uniform, which were widely condemned by lawmakers who questioned why the work was not given to the hard-hit American textile industry.

"We take seriously the concerns we've heard from members of Congress and the American public regarding the U.S. Olympic Team's Opening and Closing ceremonies uniforms," Scott Blackmun, the USOC chief executive officer, said in a written statement.

"With athletes having already arrived in London, and the apparel distribution process beginning this weekend, we are unfortunately not able to make a change for London. We are absolutely committed, however, to working with our sponsors to ensure that the concerns voiced are addressed."

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In the statement, Blackmun said that Ralph Lauren would domestically manufacture the uniforms to be worn at the opening and closing of the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in two years.

Ralph Lauren's sponsorship as the official outfitter of the U.S. Olympic team began in 2008 and runs through 2020, according to USOC profiles of its sponsors.

The controversy cast a spotlight on the plight of the U.S. textile industry, which has been hit hard in recent years by outsourcing and the economic downturn.

"Ralph Lauren promises to lead the conversation within our industry and our government addressing the issue of increasing manufacturing in the United States and has committed to producing the Opening and Closing ceremony Team USA uniforms in the United States that will be worn for the 2014 Olympic Games," the fashion company said in statement released Friday.

According to the U.S. Labor Department, 10 years ago, there were more than 350,000 Americans employed by apparel manufacturers. Last month, that number was 147,300. In testimony before Congress last year, the American Apparel and Footwear Association said that 98% of all apparel and 99% of all footwear sold in the United States are manufactured abroad.

The news the uniforms were made in China broke the same week House Democrats introduced a "Make It In America" jobs bill, striking a raw nerve with some lawmakers.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said the USOC "should be ashamed" and called for the uniforms to be "burned."

Initially, USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky took to Twitter to describe the uproar as "nonsense." In a statement on Thursday, he said: "Unlike most Olympic teams around the world, the U.S. Olympic Team is privately funded and we're grateful for the support of our sponsors."

Public pressure, though, mounted with thousands taking to Facebook and Twitter to demand the uniforms be made in America.

The first indication the USOC was changing its position came early Friday when Rep. Steve Israel and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats from New York, said they spoke with Blackmun.

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The two lawmakers wrote a joint letter on Thursday to the USOC urging it to make the uniforms in the United States.

"Just had a positive conversation re: uniforms with CEO of the @USOlympic Committee. Looking forward to hearing more soon," Israel said in a tweet.

A short time later, the USOC and Ralph Lauren issued statements.

Israel said he happy to hear the Olympic committee will require future uniforms be domestically manufactured "but disappointed no US-made uniforms in London," he tweeted.

Dara Torres, a former American Olympic swimmer who won 12 medals in a span of 20 years, said the Ralph Lauren uniforms -- with their blue berets and blazers and off-white pants and skirts -- looked great but would be better if they were produced domestically.

"Wearing the U.S. uniform, going out there to represent the United States, it would be nice if it was actually made in the United States," she told CNN.

The USOC is no stranger to controversy over its sponsorships, with questions being raised over why it opted last year to extend BP's sponsorship through the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010.

It was questioned as early as the 2002 during the Winter Games in Salt Lake City about why American athletes donned berets made by Roots, a Canadian company.

Headlines also were made this year in Australia when it was revealed its uniforms for the Olympics also were made in China. The Australian Olympic Committee responded to critics by saying it was not financially viable to make the outfits at home, according to local media reports.

Some Canadian lawmakers became irate in 2008, when it was learned that Canadian uniforms for the Olympics in Beijing were made in China.

American companies have made Olympic uniforms in the past, notably, Reebok, Levi's and Champion.

For 2014, Team USA uniforms will be made in America

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