Team GB vows to stick with traditional Union flag on 2024 Olympic kit after merchandise backlash

Team GB flag - Team GB slammed for 'defacing' Union flag for Paris Olympics
The £12 supporters' flag has replaced the traditional red, white and blue design with a new colour scheme

The British Olympic Association has vowed to stick with tradition and not mess with the classic red, white and blue Union flag on its 2024 Olympic kit following a backlash over the sale of ‘Union Jack’ merchandise in different colour shades.

In a shift from the plain red, white and blue colours most associated with the British Olympic team, designers have introduced options with squiggles and dots across colours that incorporate shades of pink and purple in a desire to “push the iconic red white and blue as far as we could”.

The Telegraph, however, has learnt that a traditional Union flag will be on the arms of all Team GB athletes’ kit at the Paris Olympics this summer and that the wider kit does not use the same colour palette that has emerged following the BOA’s collaboration with the Bath-based design company Thisaway.

Flags, bunting and water bottles were launched last June in the new colour scheme and have been on sale for fans in the official Team GB shop. The merchandise designs have provoked criticism following the outrage last week over the changed St George’s Cross flag on the collar of the England football shirt.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hit out over changes to the flag during the football kit furore and that stance was reiterated on Tuesday in respect of the Olympics. “His general view is that when it comes to our national flags, we shouldn’t mess with them,” said his spokesperson. “They’re a source of pride, identity, who we are, and he thinks they’re perfect as they are.”

Adidas are the partners for the official Team GB kit and the designs were completed some two years ago. They will be officially unveiled by athletes on April 17.

“All Team GB athletes will wear the Union Jack as normal in Paris,” said a BOA spokesperson.

It has also been stressed that the controversial new colour scheme will appear only on a selection of merchandise, as well as some digital graphics, as part of a number of different designs that have been used to appeal to all ages of fans.

Although the Team GB kit itself is expected to include different shades of blue or red, as in previous years, including the London and Tokyo Games, it is not inspired by the colours on the merchandise which cross over into purples and pinks.

The Paris kit, it is understood, will take on more traditional red, white and blue colours alongside the usual flag and are closer to a classic Team GB design.

The new flags, which have been controversially branded as a ‘Paris Union Jack Supporters Flag’, are on sale for fans in the official Team GB shop for £12. The bunting, which claims to be a ‘Union Jack pattern’, costs £13 and the sold-out metal water bottles in the new design colours retail at £17.50.

Fatima Whitbread, the former javelin world champion and world record holder, who won silver and bronze at the 1988 and 1984 Olympics respectively, also slammed the ‘Union Jack’ merchandise.

“I’m absolutely disgusted to think they’ve done it,” she told GB News. “Let’s face it, it represents our late Queen, it represents everything that embraces what’s good about our country as years have gone by.

“I feel strongly about that. No way should they have just gone ahead and changed the country’s symbolic colours. It is about national pride and unity, as far as I’m concerned.”

Peter Shilton, the former goalkeeper and record appearance holder for the England men’s football team, also condemned the different flag colours, saying “nothing is sacred”.

The new Olympic merchandise design was branded a “union joke” on the front of The Sun newspaper on Tuesday. “I’m totally against any change to our national flag,” Shilton told the newspaper.

“It feels that nothing is held sacred these days in the UK. Our national flag has been symbolic for many years and should never be changed.”

Malcolm Farrow, president of the Flag Institute, also hit out. “People have every right to be upset with Team GB,” Farrow told The Sun. “They need to remember brave men fought for this flag and died while protecting it. Changing it is bordering on an insult to them.”

‘Very positive feedback’

Team GB said that they had received “very positive public feedback” for the flags. “This image doesn’t replace the Union flag, which we will wear with pride later this summer,” added a spokesperson.

Traditional red, white and blue products are also available to supporters, including classic Union flags and towels.

The designers were quoted as saying that they had refreshed the colours in a way that was “flexible and ownable”, arguing that there were still variations in red, white and blue.

“Rather than trying to look beyond the traditional colours, we decided to embrace them and push the iconic red, white and blue as far as we could,” they said.

Whitbread added: “It’s about our country, it’s being proud to say we are Great Britain. Red, white and blue, it has been that for 223 years, so why change it?

“We are what we are. We’re not supposed to try and mulch it into something else in order to be individual.

“We are an individual country, we have red, white and blue in our colours, and that’s the way it should stay. Our forefathers went to war for us and fought for all the different things that we stand for now, that shouldn’t just be wiped out either. I’m proud to be British.

“A Union Jack is what it’s all about for me, national pride and unity, and it should be for those younger ones. It has been built on the history of what we as a nation are proud to be.”