The double Paralympic world champion Olivia Breen says she was left speechless and outraged after being told that her competition briefs were “too short and inappropriate” by an official while competing at the English Championships on Sunday.
Breen, who is set to compete at the Paralympics in Tokyo next month, told the Guardian she was wearing official Adidas briefs for 2021 – and questioned whether a male athlete would ever have been subjected to such comments.
The 24-year-old, who won a world championship gold medal in the T35-38 4x100m class in 2015 and again in 2017 in the T38 long jump, said the incident occurred after she competed in the long jump in Bedford.
“I am alway grateful for the incredible volunteers who officiate at athletics events,” said Breen, who has cerebral palsy. “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.”
Breen, who also won a bronze medal at the London 2012 Paralympics, told the Guardian she intended to make an official complaint to UK Athletics. She added that a former training partner had raised the issue with England Athletics on her behalf but was yet to hear back.
“We were both outraged that in 2021 this approach was adopted by an official during a competition,” she added. “I have been really shocked by the number of female athletes or their coaches who have told me about similar incidents happening to them.”
In a post on Twitter after the event in Bedford on Sunday, Breen also added: “Women should not be made to feel self-conscious about what they are wearing when competing but should feel comfortable and at ease.”
Another British athlete, the shot putter Amelia Stricker, said that officials who made such ‘unnecessary’ comments should not officiate.
“Female athletes shouldn’t be subjected to such criticism when there is already so much pressure on women to be “perfect”,” said Sticker. “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.”
UKA and England Athletics have been approached for comment.