Irish athlete forced to strip in Olympic sponsorship row

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DUBLIN -- A sponsorship row has erupted between the two governing bodies for Irish athletes competing in the Olympic Games following a controversial incident in Atlanta.

Ireland's 5,000 meters runner Sonia O'Sullivan was forced to remove her Reebok shirt and shorts and change into Asics-branded gear in front of male and female officials in the tunnel leading to the track. O'Sullivan has had a personal deal with Reebok since she was a Villanova student in the late 1980s. But Ireland's national athletics body, Bord Luthchleas na hEireann (BLE), struck a separate deal with the Japanese Asics four years ago and is insisting that all Irish athletes sport its branded kit at the Olympics.

The Olympic Council of Ireland, which represents Irish Olympic entrants, is claiming that athletes should not be forced into donning the Asics sportswear.

It is not clear who actually ordered O'Sullivan to strip naked, moments before her heat last Friday. She went on to win that race, but was later forced to retire from the 5,000 meter final without finishing, due to illness.

O'Sullivan told a press conference in Atlanta that she would prefer to wear Reebok clothing in the 1,500 meter heats today. But she is expected to wear Asics to avoid further unrest.

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