The camouflaging demonstrates the power of the $75 billion global athletic footwear industry, which closely monitors what athletes wear — and, with lawyers at its beck and call, what they do not.
Although it is unclear how many athletes will be disguising their footwear at the Games, the practice is not uncommon at track meets, with the reasons for the cover-ups almost as varied as the shoes available.
Athletes who have no shoe sponsor may not want to give free advertising to any company, preferring to signal that they are free agents. Taiwo called this an act of “no representation without compensation.”
Other athletes disguise shoes because they are transitioning from one company to another and are continuing to wear their old shoes while new ones are being perfected. Some, like Taiwo, participate in events for which their sponsor does not make shoes. Some athletes are simply dissatisfied with the gear made by their sponsor.
Sometimes, shoe companies give permission for athletes to wear another, disguised brand. Other times, they take umbrage, and the controversy becomes public.
In a widely reported incident in 2013, Nike…