Olivia Breen, the British double Paralympic world champion who will compete at the Tokyo Games next month, was left “speechless” after being told that her briefs were “too short and inappropriate” by an official at the English Championships.
Welsh para-athlete Breen was wearing official 2021 Adidas briefs when the incident occurred after she competed in the long jump in Bedford at Sunday’s event and questioned whether a male competitor would be subjected to similar remarks.
The 24-year-old, who won Commonwealth gold in 2018 and has two world titles in the T35-38 4x100m relay and in the T38 long jump, was contacted on Monday morning by England Athletics, who are investigating the incident.
“I am always grateful for the incredible volunteers who officiate at athletics events,” Breen, who has cerebral palsy, posted on social media. “They do an amazing job and make it possible for us to compete. However, tonight I feel disappointed because just as I finished my long jump competition one of the female officials felt it necessary to inform me that my sprint briefs were too short and inappropriate. I was left speechless.
“I have been wearing the same sprint-style briefs for many years and they are specifically designed for competing in,” she added. “I will hopefully be wearing them in Tokyo. It made me question whether a male competitor would be similarly criticised.”
England Athletics have said they are investigating the incident involving Breen
The incident occurred just after Breen had competed in the long jump
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Breen, who won a bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, said she recognised that "there needs to be regulations and guidelines in relation to competition kit” but stressed that women should not be made to feel self-conscious about their choice of clothing while competing.
On Monday, Adidas came out in support of Breen, who wore the same briefs while competing at the British trials in Manchester last month. A spokesperson from the sportswear giant said: “Olivia is 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.”
After Breen posted about her ordeal, other women were prompted to share their experiences of having their bodies policed by athletics officials on social media, with one saying she had received similar unsolicited comments at a BUCS university event.
Here something I felt like sharing that’s happened to me today at my competition @EnglandAthletic pic.twitter.com/QlYfPDmxEV
— oliviabreen (@BreenOlivia) July 18, 2021
Other high-profile athletes also voiced their support for Breen, with Stef Reid, the world Paralympic champion in T44 long jump, writing: “I wonder if any male 110m hurdlers wearing split shorts have received similar warnings?”
Amelia Strickler, the British shot putter, added: “Female athletes shouldn’t be subjected to such criticism when there is already so much pressure on women to be ‘perfect’. We are there to compete. You don’t like the outfits? Don’t officiate.”
An England Athletics spokesperson said: “We are aware of the post and will be investigating as a matter of urgency. The wellbeing of all participants in athletics is of the utmost importance and everyone should feel comfortable to compete and participate in the sport.”