Georgia will field one of the most conservatively and warmly attired teams for the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and the design choice is causing furor in the appearances-conscious ex-Soviet country.
The July 23 unveiling of the Georgian athletes’ Rio Olympic looks mortified much of this South Caucasus nation. Many cringed to see their favorite athletes buttoned up to the top, carefully covered in coats, slacks and ankle-length gowns. “Did we have the Islamic State come up with the design? They are going to bikini country, not the tundra, for crying out loud,” users fumed on social media.
Vainly did the president of Georgia’s Olympic Committee, Nino Salukvadze, an Olympic-gold-winning sports shooter, try to placate the rage by saying that it may get chilly at night in Rio. Jealously conscious of their image abroad, Georgians gasped on about the perceived display of “provincial modesty” and bad taste. Everyone seemed to have become a sports fashionista, including Parliamentary Majority Leader Zviad Kvachantiradze.
“The Olympic outfit needs to be extravagant, youthful and sexy,” advised the suit and tie-wearing, middle-aged Kvachantiradze. Dressed as they will be, he claimed, Georgia’s team will be the laughingstock at the August 5-21 Games.
Reactions and overreactions also held that the attempt at a national motif fell completely off the mark. “The men look like chefs at a Chinese restaurant; the women like singers from a Tajik choir,” some said. “An Uzbek restaurant says its wants its uniforms back.”
The Olympic Committee's reasons for choosing this look in particular were not clear.
The maker of the design, period-outfits boutique Samoseli Pirveli, however, defended its design, saying it is steeped in Georgia’s medieval past. “It is unfortunate that the Communist period left us so distanced from our traditional culture that things Georgian seem foreign to us,” the boutique said in a statement.
Before long, an online petition appeared, singed by 6,450 people as of the evening of July 25, to get the athletes out of those clothes.
A good fashion call may be in the eye of the beholder, but the wardrobe scandal sparked deeper cultural concerns, too, in a country where tradition and progress often grind against each other.
Samoseli Pirveli partly belongs to Levan Vasadze, an often anachronistically attired and minded businessman, known for his far-right politics and ties with the Georgian Orthodox Church. So, even though Georgia is proud of its sartorial tradition, some saw the Olympic threads as an evidence of Vasadze’s alleged ambition to see Georgia become a Christian Orthodox theocracy.
“To the next Olympics we will go dressed as monks,” commented Davit Paichadze, a professor of journalism at Ilia State University, on Facebook.