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Tokyo 2020 Olympics

India dumps China's Li Ning as uniform sponsor for Olympics

Move to drop apparel company comes amid strained ties with Beijing

Indian Olympic athletes pose in uniforms from Chinese sportswear maker Li Ning on June 3 in New Delhi. The company was later dropped as a sponsor.    © Getty Images

NEW DELHI -- India's Olympic athletes will wear unbranded apparel during the July 23 to Aug. 8 Summer Games in Tokyo, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) said Tuesday, after dropping Chinese sportswear brand Li Ning as its official uniform sponsor, citing "sentiments of the people of the country."

The announcement comes amid strained ties between India and China over a border standoff that led to a deadly clash in June last year. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed in the fighting. The border skirmish has led to growing calls in India for a boycott of Chinese companies.

Li Ning declined to comment on the decision.

"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 only unveiled the country's official Olympic uniforms showcasing Li Ning as a sponsor on June 3. The tie-up with the Chinese company, which began with the 2016 Rio Olympics, was due to end after the Tokyo Games. The rollout of the uniforms last week sparked criticism, with many Indians taking to Twitter to speak out against it. It appears the sports ministry then advised the IOA to drop Li Ning.

"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] pandemic over the past year and a quarter, and we want them not [to be] distracted," it added.

Despite the tensions between New Delhi and Beijing, Chinese smartphone maker Vivo returned 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. Online sports betting company Dream11 replaced Vivo as the tournament's sponsor last year.

It has been a turbulent time for Indian sports. The popular Twenty20 cricket competition was suspended midway through the event early last month as a devastating second wave of COVID-19 broke in the country. According to local media reports, the remaining matches of the cash-rich cricket tournament are likely to be held in the United Arab Emirates in September and October. Last year the entire tournament, which features top national and international cricketers, was moved to the UAE as India was then dealing with the first wave of the pandemic.

Additional reporting by Nikki Sun reporting in Hong Kong

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