Double Paralympic world champion Olivia Breen says she was left “speechless” after an official at the English Championships told her that her sprint briefs were “too short and inappropriate.”
The 24-year-old detailed the incident in a Twitter post on Sunday, saying that while she was grateful to the volunteers who officiate at the competitions, women should not be made to feel self-conscious while competing.
“I am always grateful for the incredible volunteers who officiate at athletics events,” Breen told her 10,200 followers. “They do an amazing job and make it possible for us to compete.”
In an interview with CNN on Monday, Breen said the remark hurt more coming from another woman.
“You have no right to say what I can and can’t wear,” said Breen, adding that she went public to raise awareness.
England Athletics have been in touch with her, she said, and she is planning to make an official compliant.
“They (England Athletics) have been very supportive, which is really nice,” she said.
The sprint briefs in question were the Adidas official 2021 briefs, Breen told the Guardian.
According to the Welsh star – who won a gold medal at the 2017 IPC World Championships in the T38 long jump and took gold and set a world record in the T35-38 100-meter sprint relay in the same competition in 2015 – her briefs are specifically designed for competitions and she has been wearing similar ones for many years without complaint.
Breen, who has cerebral palsy, will represent Britain at the Tokyo Paralympics next month. She said in her post that she will “hopefully” be wearing the same sprint briefs in Tokyo.
“When you are competing, you want to feel as light as possible to make you perform better,” Breen told CNN, explaining she prefers briefs to be short because they make her feel “more free.”
“We are entitled to wear what we are given and what we can wear,” she added.
The Paralympian said remarks like those from the official on Sunday could “ruin confidence and self-esteem” of younger female athletes.
“For me it just made me angry. If I was 16 or something it would make me burst into tears,” said Breen, who believes officials need to be provided with better guidance on using appropriate language when dealing with Paralympians.
“They need to treat us with respect and not make us feel like rubbish.”
The athlete – who also won a bronze medal at the London 2012 Paralympics – called out the apparent double standard in her Twitter post, saying the experience “made me question whether a male competitor would be similarly criticized. I hope no other female athletes had similar issues.”
“I recognize that there needs to be regulations and guidelines in relation to competition kit but women should not be made to feel self-conscious about what they are wearing when competing but should feel comfortable and at ease,” she added.
The 2020-2022 edition of United Kingdom Athletes (UKA) “Rules for Competition” states that “In all events, athletes must wear clothing which is clean, and designed and worn so as not to be objectionable.”
The guidelines also say clothing “must be made of a material which is non-transparent even if wet” and that athletes “must not wear clothing which could impede the view of the Judges.”
A fellow British athlete, shot putter Amelia Strickler, responded to Breen’s post by saying remarks like those made by the official Sunday contributed to the pressure female athletes already face.
“Female athletes shouldn’t be subjected to such criticism when there is already so much pressure on women to be ‘perfect,’” Strickler wrote on Twitter.
“We are there to compete. You don’t like the outfits? Don’t officiate. We don’t need officials adding unnecessary stress in those moments.”
Adidas described Breen as an “inspiration on and off the track.”
“It’s disappointing to see her judged on anything but her athletic performance. We fully endorse her comments and hope they are taken onboard by the event organisers,” said an Adidas spokesperson in statement sent to CNN.
CNN has contacted England Athletics for further comment.