With Li Ning out as apparel sponsor, Indian Olympic Association seeks replacement ahead of Tokyo Games

The IOA is even prepared for its Indian contingent to go unbranded

Having snapped sponsorship ties with Chinese company Li Ning, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) is prepared to go with unbranded sports kits at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. The IOA, however, has not given up hope on finding a replacement sponsor in the short time available, but admits it won’t be easy.

“The IOA, the athletes, sports everyone exists because of the public and if public sentiment is against something then there is no question of going ahead with it. We took a decision to withdraw from the contract after criticism and we are in the process of initiating talks (for a replacement sponsor). But we have only till the end of June to finalise things and honestly, it isn’t enough time,” IOA president Narinder Batra told The Hindu.

Batra and Secretary General Rajeev Mehta had, on Tuesday night, issued a joint statement, withdrawing the contract without naming 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… 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 not be distracted,” they had announced.

The IOA, along with the Sports Ministry, had unveiled the Indian kits for the Tokyo Olympics only last week at a virtual event. “Getting the kits ready is not an issue, they are being readied even now for those confirmed qualified and we have the measurements of all those who are on the long list. If we manage something in time, great. Otherwise they will remain unbranded. But there can’t be a compromise with the standards,” Batra added.

“Olympics is a huge stage and there can be no compromise with the prestige of representing the nation there. Anyone can spend huge amounts to get their name on the kit but we will have to look at the credentials also,” he insisted.

IOA treasurer Anandeshwar Pandey admitted that a well-known domestic brand was India’s best bet at the moment. “Given the conditions and the circumstances, I believe getting an Indian brand on board will be the best thing. Without compromising on quality, it will also be a proud thing on the global stage.”

Shiv Naresh remains the front-runner for the same as the most experienced Indian manufacturer.

Chinese Foreign Ministry reacts

Reacting to the announcement, China’s Foreign Ministry in Beijing said on Wednesday it "hoped that the Indian side will be objective and fair in viewing the normal cooperation between the two countries, rather than politicising the issue."

Inputs by Ananth Krishnan in Beijing

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