Explained: The fragile bond between Indian sports and Chinese brand

Explained: The fragile bond between Indian sports and Chinese brand

On Tuesday, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) announced that the “nation’s athletes would wear unbranded sports apparel” at next month’s Tokyo Games. The decision was made a day after IOA, at an official launch, had said that Chinese giant Li Ning would provide the sports attire, including the travel and playing kits for the athletes, to the Indian athletes. In a joint statement, IOA president Narinder Batra and secretary-general Rajeev Mehta said the step was taken keeping in mind the ‘sentiments of the people of the country’.

This wasn’t the first instance of an Indian sports body suspending its association with a Chinese brand. Last year, the BCCI parted ways with Vivo, IPL’s title sponsor. This came in the wake of the military skirmish on the India-China border and the banning of close to 100 Chinese apps by the Indian government. However, Vivo returned as IPL sponsor this year.

When did the IOA announce the association with Li Ning for the Tokyo Games?

On June 3, to mark the 50-day Olympics countdown, the IOA unveiled the kits Indian players would wear at the Games. After the ceremony, 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 deal was reported to be worth approximately Rs 5 crore. The company was to supply sports attire, travelling and playing kits including bags for the athletes headed to Tokyo. The uniforms were unveiled by sports minister Kiren Rijiju, a Member of Parliament from Arunachal Pradesh, who was the chief guest for the ceremony.

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Was this the first time the Indian contingent would have worn clothes made by a Chinese company?

No. In fact, Li Ning was the Indian team’s apparel sponsor even at the Rio Olympics five years ago. The company also provided uniforms for the 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games.

Then why was the deal revoked?

The IOA, in its statement, referred to public sentiment. Following the border dispute between India and China last year, there were calls to boycott Chinese companies and products. The anti-China sentiment also led to smartphone maker Vivo opting out as the sponsor of last year’s Indian Premier League – although it returned this year. Social media criticism is also being seen as a reason for IOA’s decision.

Will IOA find a new sponsor so close to the Games?

According to the IOA, the 100-plus Indian athletes who will compete in Tokyo from July 23 to August 8 will wear ‘unbranded apparel’.

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What is the scale of China’s presence in India’s sporting ecosystem?

India relies heavily on products and raw materials from China in nearly every sport. According to the Department of Commerce’s data for 2018-2019, more than half of India’s sports equipment imports are from China. This includes ­footballs to table tennis balls and shuttlecocks, tennis and badminton racquets and their stringing machines, mountain climbing and adventure sports gear, gym apparatus and athletics gear including javelins and high jump bars. Tokyo Games big medal hopeful, shuttler PV Sindhu, is also sponsored by Li Ning.

Has Li Ning been in a similar situation before?


Last week, Reuters reported that a US congressional commission urged the country’s basketball stars to stop endorsing the company’s products for using cotton sourced from China’s Xinjiang region. It further added that there were reports that revealed ‘authorities in Xinjiang had systematically forced minority Muslims to engage in forced labour and there was credible evidence forced labour existed in Xinjiang cotton production.’ Two years ago, it was Li Ning that stopped its ‘cooperation’ with NBA side Houston Rockets. The move, they claimed, was in their ‘national interest’ after Rockets’ chief executive backed the Hong Kong protests.

new source: indianexpress

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