Why the New Zealand Olympic team needs to dress like team USA

OPINION:

As New Zealand’s finest athletes gather their passports and get ready to embark on one of the proudest moments of their lives, I find myself overwhelmed with one qualm.

Their uniform. Or lack thereof.

A quick-dry shirt by the brand Peak, some plain black trackpants, grey shorts, and a zip-up jacket doing its best to pull it all together, but like a dreaded school group project, one simply cannot do it alone.

So as our athletes board those planes to Tokyo, and are greeted by Air New Zealand flight attendants dressed better than they are, I am left with one big question. Why couldn’t we do better for them?

Granted, it’s better than the ill-fitting blue T-shirts of Rio 2016, but the 2021 NZ Olympic uniform can at best be described as ordinary.

Here’s what the NZOC have to say about the kit: “The silver fern remains at the heart of the New Zealand Team uniform for Tokyo 2020. With the traditional black, the range also includes flashes of Pacific blue while New Zealand is written in katakana (Japanese script) on a number of items as a sign of respect to the host nation.”

A beautiful sign of respect for the host nation. But are we sure a $39 T-shirt was the optimal canvas for this message?

“With technical fabric designed for the heat and lighter colour options for those outside, the Olympic village and podium-wear will ensure the New Zealand Team is ready to compete on the world stage.”

Sorry NZOC, but I just absolutely disagree.

That’s because looking the part is more important than you think. Multiple studies, including one from Harvard University, have shown that dressing well increases your performance and heightens others’ impressions of you.

For example, wearing clothes that make you feel successful can change the way you interact with others, as well as your cognitive functioning. It can even make the difference between doing well or doing poorly.

So, before you poo-poo me in the name of “fashion”, it actually does matter.

Now I have nothing against Peak themselves. Located at Dress Mart Onehunga, the China-based brand offers what appears to be an affordable athletic option. However, was there no way we could have jazzed up this Peak polo a little more? Or commissioned a set of number 1s to bring up the fashionable bar?

Put yourself in the shoes of these athletes, they have put their blood, sweat and tears into getting to where they are in the sport they love.

This kit should be immaculate. There should be the ritual there once was of opening that branded bag and treasuring each item within. Holding on to the gear for generations to come, showing off your gear and swapping items with athletes of other nations.

But who on earth would want to swap with a Kiwi during Tokyo 2021? Sorry, but NZ athletes might need to barter with a block of Whittaker’s this year.

Speaking to an ex-Commonwealth Games athlete, I wasn’t the slightest bit shocked when he told me that half the excitement of making it to an event like this was the ritual of the gear, wearing that uniform, having that fern on your chest and the special feeling attached to it.

But with recent Olympic campaigns, we can all agree that opening that bag and seeing that uniform would leave even the least fashion-conscious athlete feeling disappointed.

Let’s use the immaculately presented team USA as an example. Their Ralph Lauren and Nike gear is flawless. Comically preppy at times, but flawless. The time that goes into each athlete being fitted and kitted is admirable. These people feel special, they feel world-class, and there’s a mental preparedness that comes with literally looking the part.

Team Great Britain also nailed their 2021 uniform, as did our greatest rivals Australia, and if transtasman rivalry doesn’t stir you up, I honestly don’t know what will.

With the amount of money NZOC pours into getting our athletes on to the world stage, the uniform feels like an afterthought when it should be a main event.

You want these Kiwis to line up for that event and be bursting with pride? Then make them feel proud to slip on that uniform. Make putting on that event kit or those number 1’s a ritual. Make it the proudest moment of their lives.

Give them a tie, a structured, lightweight (it is Tokyo after all) jacket, a commemorative Olympic rings cuff link, and a perfectly tailored pair of pants.

With a nation full of incredible designers, why not utilise them? Go to Zambesi, who optimise the colours black and white? Kiri Nathan, whose designs reflect Aotearoa at its core and is herself an inspirational Māori woman? Or get back to basics and commission Karen Walker, the undisputed queen of the structured jacket and a global name in fashion?

And what about getting in touch with the good people at Huffer for the winter Olympics uniform? Who wouldn’t want that puffer jacket?

If money is the issue, why not take the money they spent on the absolutely pointless 800kg 12m-long skateboard and use that. Or go to somewhere like Wintec – have students in their final year design the uniform and have the winner’s designs worn by the team.

Then, take that stunning uniform and sell it online and at sports stores. Have every Kiwi want to nab that shirt, the same way Americans want to wear their team Olympic apparel with pride. Even Kim Kardashian’s brand SKIMS has a USA Olympic collection, which is expected to sell out in minutes. Why? It’s a pride thing.

There are so many phone calls that could have been made, and designers they could have shoulder tapped, but it feels like NZOC instead chose to go with nothing.

So while we’re more than three years out, might I suggest someone not only put this on their priority list for Paris 2024, but put it at the top. Paris is the fashion epicentre of the world and when in France, please NZOC, do as the French do.

For our greatest athletes, during their greatest moments, we absolutely can do better.

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