India's athletes will wear unbranded clothes at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, starting from July 23, as the country has dropped China’s sportswear brand Li Ning as its official uniform sponsor, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) said on Tuesday.
The decision has been taken, keeping in mind the "sentiments of the people of the country," according to an IOA statement.
The announcement comes amid strained ties between India and China over military stand-off in Ladakh that had led to a deadly clash in June last year in the Galwan valley where 20 Indian soldiers were killed ina skirmish. Although several rounds of talks have been held since then and the situation is better, China has refused to withdraw its troops to positions where they were stationed in April last year before the build-up started in Ladakh. The border tension has led to growing calls in India for a boycott of Chinese companies.
"We are aware of the emotions of our fans and … have decided that we will withdraw from our existing contract with an apparel sponsor," Indian Olympic Association President Narinder Dhruv Batra and Secretary-General Rajeev Mehta said in a statement issued late Tuesday, without naming Li Ning. "Our athletes, coaches and support staff will wear unbranded apparel."
The IOA had unveiled the country's official Olympic uniforms showcasing Li Ning as a sponsor on June 3. The move had triggered intense criticism, with many Indians taking to Twitter to voice their concern on the issue. The sports ministry is reported to have asked the IOA to drop Li Ning as a sponsor.
"We are thankful for guidance by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in making this decision," the IOA statement said. "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 coronavirus pandemicover the past year and a quarter, and we do not want them to be distracted, "the statement added.
The agreement for sponsorship with the Chinese company, which beganwith the 2016 Rio Olympics, was scheduled to end after the Tokyo Games.
India is a big market for Chinese companies and has assumed even greater importance after the trade war with the US limiting access to their biggest market.
Despite the tensions between New Delhi and Beijing, Chinese smartphone maker Vivo had come back as the main sponsor of the Indian Premier League cricket tournament this year after opting out of last year's event against the backdrop of anti-China sentiment in the wake of military face-off in Ladakh. Chinese companies like Vivo are keen to tap a larger share of the fast growing Indian smartphone market.