On Thursday, Nike introduced new leak-proof technology meant to give athletes more comfort when competing during their period. The technology will be offered as a base layer to all 13 national teams that wear Nike and are competing at this year’s Women’s World Cup.
Crucially, the technology will be available to the masses through retail beginning Saturday. The goal, senior apparel innovation project manager Lisa Gibson tells The Equalizer, is to combat what Nike calls “the dropout formula” that sees girls dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys by age 14. That does not happen exclusively because of menstruation, she says, but they know it to be a factor.
“We wanted to create a product that would keep people in sport and also just give people peace of mind while they’re playing their sport, engaging in that movement,” said Gibson, who competed for Great Britain’s water polo team at the 2012 London Olympics.
The World Cup will serve as grand debut for the technology at an inflection point in the movement toward more player comfort. Last year, England’s women’s players expressed a desire for the team to stop wearing white shorts over menstruation concerns; Nike is England’s uniform supplier. The U.S. is expected to wear blue shorts with its white jersey tops as much as possible, The Equalizer previously reported.
In the National Women’s Soccer League, the Orlando Pride recently changed its all-white kit to black shorts after hearing concerns from players.
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FIFA’s detailed rules about uniforms require players to wear matching colored underwear if the base layer is at all visible. That has been a particular problem for white shorts. Gibson says the Nike Pro Short, which serves as a base layer, will be available to Nike-sponsored teams in the necessary colors to match their World Cup uniforms.
Gibson says the product line, called “Nike Leak Protection: Period,” arrives after four years of development that included 20 iterations of materials and 30 rounds of prototypes “so that it really moves in synergy with your body.” Nike’s various technology teams designed a two-layer system in which the top layer next to the skin wicks and absorbs fluid, and the second layer is a membrane that acts as a barrier to leaks. They purposefully used synthetic blood rather than water in testing, and the final material has been tested on “hundreds of athletes for thousands of hours including football players.”
Increasingly, players globally have called for more comfort and protection when competing during menstruation. Gear manufacturers are beginning to reply. Puma recently changed Manchester City’s women’s team’s white shorts for a maroon color following player concerns, and the brand plans to stop producing white shorts entirely for women’s teams beginning with the 2023-24 European season.
“There is simply no sporting or competitive reason for white shorts,” NWSL Players Association executive director Meghann Burke told The Equalizer recently. “You’ve heard loud and clear from players why it’s so important for our sport and league to adopt this easy fix. I can recall this being an issue that my U12/13 teams talked about as a kid, so it’s not a ‘new’ issue by any stretch. I’m just glad to see common sense can finally prevail on this issue.”
FIFA is yet to specifically respond to concerns about white shorts. A spokesperson for the global governing body noted that white uniforms are not required. Per FIFA regulations, teams must have a dark uniform and a light-colored uniform.
Soccer is leading the movement for change, and the World Cup offers another platform for normalizing discussion about menstruation and improving standards around player comfort.
Gibson was an elite world athlete in water polo, but she sees the broader impact this could have not just on professional athletes, but every athlete at any age, any level.
“I think back to when I was a teenager, and how much this would have changed my life and my engagement with sport at a young age,” she said. “Just having that reassurance and not being distracted and worried about bleed through, knowing that I can go and play my game and I don’t need to be worried, because Nike’s got my back.”
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