SASCOC admitted that they had sent some of the Team SA athletes to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics without measuring them for the team kit from Chinese brand 361 Degrees they had to wear. But, they had seamstresses on site in Brazil to make alterations to the athletes’ clothing, SASCOC president Gideon Sam assured members of the Parliamentary Committee for Sport.

SRSA Director General Alec Moemi conceded that apparel sizes differed from one manufacturer to another, but argued that since the different sporting codes were located in different training facilities across the country, some of the athletes could not be measured in person (as would have happened if there was a local representative – ed). If the athletes had sent through their measurements close to the departure date, the clothing would not have arrived on time from China, Moemi explained.

SASCOC couldn’t measure our Olympic athletes before their departure = the result was ill-fitting tracksuits like these worn by medalists Lawrence Britain and Shaun Keeling.

Committee members grilled SASCOC and SRSA delegates about the ill-fitting tracksuits the 81 members of Team SA – 45 athletes, 22 officials, 7 general team managers and 7 medical staff – wore at the Olympics.
During the parliamentary briefing it transpired that:

  • The brand 361 Degrees, unrepresented in South Africa, has a contract to sponsor the team sport clothing for South African athletes in multi-coded events until 2020 … unless the contract is prematurely ended, as was the case with the previous Team SA sponsor Erke. The R31.5-bn deal signed before the London Olympics gave the Chinese brand the right to sponsor SASCOC athletes until 2017. We have been unable to get an explanation from SASCOC how and why this contract was prematurely ended.
  • The Department (SRSA) was in talks with the Department of Trade and Industry for connections with sponsors or companies who might support South African sporting codes with sponsorships for uniforms, said Moemi.
  • The sponsor (361 Degrees) had essentially been chosen in the absence of any other local sponsor willing to step up to the challenge, the parliamentary committee was told by Sam. As long as this company was sponsoring and there was no competitive bidder, SASCOC had no choice but to use them, he said.

They were, however, not required to explain why any company or brand from South Africa would approach SASCOC when they knew there was a contract with another brand in place … nor why they kept it such a secret that the contract with Erke was no longer valid.

361 Degrees will supply the apparel for all national teams participating in multi-code events until 2020.

As before the London Olympics when Erke was appointed sponsor, we could not find any international brands represented in South Africa who had been notified by SASCOC – even though adidas SA is the technical partner of Athletics SA and ASICS supplied the hi-tech custom-made kit in which the Blitzbokke qualified for the Olympics.

The high-tech ASICS rugby shirt (left) and the kit supplied by 361 Degrees (right).

“But, irrespective of how the tracksuits turned out, they were recognized as favourites at the Olympics by many international sport magazines and channels such as Fox Sports, Huffington Post, and the like, when measured against those of other countries with sponsorship from the likes of Armani, Stella McCartney and other famous names,” said Moemi.

Readers of the satirical news publication Huffington Post were actually asked to vote for the best and worst dressed teams in the opening ceremony: South Africa got 196 votes as best, and 403 as worst. Burundi, who wore long ethnic kikois, got most votes as ‘the best’. US publication E! News, which Moemi cited as an example of a publication that admired the Team SA uniforms, wrote: “If the Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers combined their wardrobes and then had a super power that included swaggy dance skills, this is what we’d get.” Fox news commented on the ‘retro style’ of our tracksuits.

The tight-fitting apparel supplied by 361 Degrees (left) with Wayde van Niekerk in the adidas running kit he is used to running in.

While the committee members were unhappy because the badly fitting tracksuits worn during the opening and medal ceremonies did not project a good image, Sports Trader has argued that the lack of care that went into the performance kit placed our athletes at an unfair disadvantage, especially since they had to compete against athletes wearing hi-tech clothing developed over several years, in many instances with direct input from the athletes they were intended for.