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India Drops Chinese Kit Sponsor for Tokyo Games, But What's All the Fuss About?

India's Olympics team will not have an apparel sponsor at the Tokyo Games after the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) dropped its contract with Chinese sponsor Li-Ning.

The Indian Olympians will now wear unbranded apparel during the sporting event, which starts next month in Japan's capital.

Last Thursday, Indian Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju unveiled the sporting and ceremonial kits for all events, and for the opening and closing ceremony of the Games.

Rijiju announced that Li-Ning was the official apparel sponsor of India's athletes but on Wednesday, the IOA in a statement said that it was terminating its contract with the Chinese brand because the association wants to "respect the sentiments of India's people."

"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," it stated.

IOC Treasurer Anandeshwar Pandey, who is also the secretary-general of the Handball Federation of India, spoke to Sputnik on Wednesday. He said the IOC has dropped the Chinese sponsor because "it cannot go against the wishes of the Indian public."

"We are now looking for an Indian sponsor. But so far no company has approached us to become the official kit sponsor for the athletes in Tokyo. Earlier, we had Indian sports brand Shiv Naresh as the sponsor in the 2018 Commonwealth and the Asian Games," Pandey said.

"I hope to see such brands offering their helping hand to the IOC, as we are now without an apparel sponsor," he added.

The Chinese sportswear and sports equipment company was founded by former Olympic gymnast Li-Ning. It was the kit sponsor for India at the 2016 Rio Olympics as well as the 2018 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games held the same year.

However, as the border standoff with the Chinese army began on 5 May last year in Eastern Ladakh, the clamour to ban Chinese products in India grew louder.

The demand to ban Chinese products further intensified after 20 Indian soldiers died in the Galwan Valley clash the following month on 15 and 16 June.

A total of 99 Indian athletes have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics that will be held from 23 July to 8 August.

According to IOA officials, the Chinese company was set to supply sports attire, equipment, and travelling kit for its athletes. 

Last year, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) dropped VIVO as the IPL sponsor before inviting fresh bids for the 2020 tournament. Dream11 won the rights to become the new title sponsor of the IPL.

However, even Dream11 was caught up in the controversy as questions were raised about its close association with Chinese technology major Tencent, which has a 10.9 percent stake in the sports fantasy platform.

Former Uttar Pradesh cricketer, Krishnakant Upadhyay, who played for IPL team Pune Warriors India, told Sputnik, "Banning Chinese apps and terminating the contracts of Chinese sponsors is not a solution because such acts have a deep impact on the financial stability of our sports stars and sports in India."

"If the government or any government organisation like the IOC really wants to respect the wishes of the people of India, they should ban Chinese products in totality, including mobile phones and electronic appliances. Else, they should not put any unnecessary pressure on sports organisations to cancel their deals with Chinese brands," he suggested.

VIVO's IPL sponsorship deal with the BCCI is worth more than $300 million. After being dropped as a sponsor in 2020, VIVO returned as IPL's sponsor this year before the tournament was suspended on 5 May after several players tested positive for COVID-19. IPL will now resume in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from 19 September.

Li-Ning's deal with the IOC was worth $822,966.

Meanwhile, despite the IOC's decision, Li-Ning will still feature within India's team; India's biggest medal hope at the Olympics and badminton superstar P.V. Sindhu has an endorsement deal worth $7 million with the Chinese sports major.

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