After dropping Chinese sportswear company Li Ning as India's Olympic kit sponsor, Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju on Wednesday said the country's athletes will not wear branded apparel in the upcoming Tokyo Games even as the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) claimed that the search is on for a new partner.
Rijiju's statement came hours after IOA president Narinder Batra said that the National Olympic Committee (NOC) was hoping to find a new kit sponsor for the contingent by the end of this month after cutting ties with Li Ning on Tuesday.
"Indian athletes, coaches and support staff, won't be wearing any branded apparel at Tokyo Olympics. Only 'INDIA' will be written in the kits of our athletes," Rijiju tweeted.
However, Batra said search is on for a new sponsor within the limited available time.
"The process (of finding a new sponsor) is in progress but time in our hand is very limited. We don't want to put pressure on anyone and have them on board under duress. It has to be on mutual agreement," Batra said.
"By month end, we will have to take a call on whether to go unbranded. The apparels are ready and need to hand them over to our athletes as soon as possible." Sunlight Sports, which is the exclusive distributor of Li Ning products in India, said the company has accepted IOA's decision looking at the current "fluctuating conditions in the country".
"Sunlight Sports understands the current global situation and the fluctuating conditions in the country and have agreed to allow the Indian Olympic Association to arrange the official sports kit of the Indian Olympic team locally," read a statement issued by IOA secretary general Rajeev Mehta.
The IOA had unveiled the Olympic kit last week in the presence of sports minister Kiren Rijiju, which led to widespread criticism as Chinese companies had faced opposition after last year's military face-off between the two countries in eastern Ladakh.
It is learnt that the Sports Ministry then advised the Olympic body to snap ties with the company. The IOA chief said that the decision to drop Li Ning was taken in public interest.
"I am not going to take the name of any company or anyone, but the decision was taken only after we started to receive criticism from all quarters, including the media following the announcement. We took this decision keeping in mind public sentiment," Batra said.
Batra said for the IOA and Sports Ministry, the priority is preparation of the country's Olympic-bound athletes and logistics regarding their travel to Tokyo for the quadrennial Games.
While Li Ning was the official apparel partner, the official ceremonial kits are being sponsored by Raymonds.
"With the vastly spread-out training camps combined with the constantly evolving COVID-19 situation in India, IOA has faced unprecedented logistical challenges in meeting the exact apparel requirements of the participating Indian athletes," the IOA statement read on Wednesday.
"Due to these challenges, the Indian Olympic Association requested Sunlight Sports to allow IOA to appoint local manufacturers familiar with the athletes' apparel measurements, to produce and supply the sports kitting for the Indian Olympic team," it added.
The IOA chief also dismissed reports that India, along with nine other countries, could be barred from participating in the Tokyo Olympics by the organisers because of a surge in COVID-19 cases in those nations.
"These are all media speculations. We at IOA haven't heard anything from either the IOC (International Olympic Committee) or the organisers in this regard," Batra said.
"But still we have asked the IOC and Tokyo Games organisers to give us a clear picture. India is still better-placed than most other nations in terms of COVID cases and mortality rate." A Malaysian media report claimed that the Japanese government had asked the Games organising committee to consider denying entry to 10 countries, including India, due to the surge in COVID cases recently.
The report further stated that other countries on the possible "no entry list" are Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and the United Kingdom.
However, the Games organisers have also rejected the speculation.
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