In the Olympics, every player is branded. Their entire wardrobe is a makeshift flag for their home country, a reminder that they’re playing for both themselves and a much grander audience. But out of the 10,490 competitors in the Olympics, there are four who aren’t playing toward a medal count for their countries because their countries don’t have recognized National Olympic Committees. Instead, they compete by qualifying as Independent Olympic Athletes (IOAs). Their flag is the Olympic flag. Their uniform becomes the Olympic uniform–which someone has to make.
Nike created custom uniforms for three athletes from the Netherlands Antilles (who will compete in sailing, the 400m, and judo) that were worn during the opening ceremonies. They consisted of a custom M65 jacket and a pair of Flyknit running shoes, along with a scarf, which share a color scheme with the Olympic flag–better known by most of us as “the rings.” And don’t worry, the fourth IOA, the awe-inspiring marathon runner Guor Marial born in what is now South Sudan, still got all of his competition gear covered along with the others.
All of this said, wouldn’t it be somewhat liberating for Olympic athletes to compete under a single uniform? Every four years, the world assembles in peace, only to duke it out through a highly regimented series of competitions. By so stringently swaddling our own players in national pride, aren’t we missing the bigger picture of world unity? Maybe we could use a few more IOAs.