Olivia Breen: Paralympian left ‘angry and speechless’ after being told sprint briefs were ‘too short and inappropriate’

·4-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

British Paralympian Olivia Breen says she was left “speechless” after being told by an official at the English Championships that her sprint briefs were “too short and inappropriate”.

The double world champion and 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medalist said the remark was made shortly after she finished competing in the long jump competition in Bedford on Sunday evening.

In a post on social media, Welsh athlete Breen - who will be competing at this summer’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo - said she had been competing in the same Adidas shorts for several years and added that the incident had made her question “whether a male competitor would be similarly criticised”.

The 24-year-old - who has cerebral palsy - said that women should “not be made to feel self-conscious about what they are wearing when competing”.

On Twitter, Breen wrote: "I am always grateful for the incredible volunteers who officiate at athletics events.

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"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. I will hopefully be wearing them in Tokyo. It made me question whether a male competitor would be similarly criticised.

"I hope no other female athletes had similar issues. I recognise that there needs to be regulations and guidelines in relation to competition kit but women should not be made to feel self-conscious about what they are wearing when competing but should feel comfortable and at ease."

“They are like high-waisted bikini bottoms,” Breen subsequently told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme on Monday morning.

“I’ve worn them for nine years, I’ve never had a problem and we should feel comfortable with what we wear.

“We want to be as light as possible when we’re competing, not having to feel heavy, and to feel comfortable. We should just wear what we’re entitled to wear.”

Expanding on the incident, she added: “I’d just finished my competition and was thanking the officials for their help and their support and this official came up to me and said ‘can I talk to you?’ and I was like ‘yeah, what’s the problem?’

“She said ‘I think what you’re wearing is very revealing and I think you should consider buying shorts’. I didn’t know what to say. I was left speechless and my first thought process was ‘are you joking?’.

“I’ve never personally felt self-conscious, but yesterday made me feel very angry and obviously from the response on Instagram and Twitter that I’ve had, it has happened to a lot of young girls and athletes and it needs to change.

“I think people haven’t spoken out about it because they feel afraid and I want people to feel confident and speak out about it because it’s wrong what happened and this needs to stop happening to us.

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“I’m just going to take it as far as I can. I really want to get the message out there and I obviously want to make a change in female sport so people can’t make comments again about what we can and can’t wear.”

In a later tweet, Breen said: “Thank you everyone for all your lovely supportive messages and I’m sorry to hear that it has happened to so many other people. Some people have asked what I was competing in yesterday so here is a picture. I don’t think it is “ objectionable” within the UKA regulations.”

According to The Guardian, Breen intends to submit an official complaint to UK Athletics, while she told Sky Sports News that she believes the official in question “should be educated” rather than punished.

Meanwhile, England Athletics said they would be urgently investigating the incident. Standard Sport has also approached British Athletics for comment.

“We are aware of the post and will be investigating as a matter of urgency,” an England Athletics spokesperson said.

“The wellbeing of all participants in athletics is of the utmost importance and everyone should feel comfortable to compete and participate in the sport.”

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