Updated: June 9, 2021 1:49:52 pm
Claiming that they were ‘respecting the sentiments of the people of the country’, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) said they have withdrawn from their ‘existing contract with an apparel sponsor’ and that the Tokyo-bound contingent will be wearing ‘unbranded apparel’ during the Games next month.
In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, IOA president Narinder Batra and secretary general Rajeev Mehta did not specify the name of the apparel sponsor. However, during the unveiling of India’s sporting and ceremonial kits last Thursday, in the presence of sports minister Kiren Rijiju, it was announced that the official sports apparel sponsor was Chinese brand Li Ning.
In their statement, Batra and Mehta refrained from mentioning Li Ning. “We are aware of the emotions of our fans and we in the IOA have decided that we will withdraw from our existing contract with an apparel sponsor. Our athletes, coaches and support staff, will wear unbranded apparel,” the statement said.
When asked specifically if the apparel sponsor referred to in the statement was Li Ning, Batra and Mehta did not reply.
The two IOA officials added in the statement that the decision was taken so the athletes could focus on training instead of ‘answering questions about the apparel brand.
“We are thankful for guidance by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in making this decision. We would like our athletes to be able to train and compete without having to answer questions about the apparel brand. As it is, they have all been challenged by the pandemic over the past year and a quarter and we want them to be not distracted,” the statement said.
The Chinese giant was the sponsor of India’s kits at the Rio Olympics as well. The country’s athletes have also worn Li Ning’s uniforms at the Commonwealth and Asian Games in 2018. But after the clamour to ban Chinese products in India grew following the border dispute last year, the IOA had said it was reconsidering its sponsorship deal with Li Ning.
“Our association (with Li Ning) is till the Tokyo Olympics but we will take up the issue in our general body meeting. For us, the country comes first,” Mehta had said last June. The organisation, however, continued their partnership with the company.
On June 3, after unveiling the kit, the IOA said in a media release: “Li-Ning designed the official sports kit inspired by India’s national colours and integrated unique graphics to emote the energy and pride of the Indian Olympic Team.”
The company was to supply sports attire, travelling and playing kits including bags for the athletes headed to Tokyo. So far, 99
Indian athletes (55 male and 44 female) have qualified for the Olympics, which will be held from July 23 to August 8.
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