Uncertainty Over IOC Uniforms for Tokyo Could Continue for 2022 Games
Chinese sportswear company Anta is the official supplier of uniforms for the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics. When the company was asked if it sourced cotton for its uniforms from Xinjiang—China’s cotton hub and home to the ongoing alleged human rights abuse and forced labor of the Uighur people—Anta reportedly refused to answer.
In October of 2019, the IOC announced that Anta would be the official uniform, shoes and accessories supplier for the 2020 (now 2021) Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Olympics, making it the first Chinese company to be the official supplier for IOC members and staff. According to Axios, Anta announced that same month that it would be the first Chinese company to join the Europe-based industry watchdog group Better Cotton Initiative.
The following year, the BCI announced that it would no longer work in Xinjiang due to the allegations of forced labor. Last month, Chinese state-run media criticized BCI’s decision, prompting Anta to withdraw itself from the organization.
As international attention focused on Xinjiang and the companies that source cotton from the region, Anta said it would continue to use Xinjiang cotton, issuing a statement last month that it has “always bought and used cotton produced in China, including Xinjiang cotton, and in the future we will continue to do so.”
While Anta has remained opaque about the origins of its materials, an IOC spokesperson told Axios that the uniforms for the Tokyo Olympics do not include any cotton at all, and that the IOC has been working with Anta “to monitor the conditions in the factories producing our goods.”
Japanese athletic brand Asics, which is supplying uniforms for the Australian Olympic team, was in a similar position after releasing a statement supporting the “One China principle.” Asics claimed the statement was unauthorized by the corporate headquarters, but it further underscored the challenges apparel companies are increasingly facing when sourcing from China. For international companies, there's a real risk that moving away from Xinjiang could mean alienating the enormous Chinese market.
Right now, this is focused on the upcoming Tokyo event, but there are plenty of plotlines tying into next year’s Beijing event. Since these decisions about cotton have deeper geopolitical implications, it’s worth paying attention to how other sportswear companies play it going into the Beijing event. Will they want to take a strong stance against China’s cotton industry, facing possible repercussions from the Chinese government, or will they stay quiet and possibly even use China’s cotton to curry favor with the games’ organizers?