IOA begins search for kit maker without Chinese connection



New Delhi

With less than 50 days to go for the Tokyo Olympic Games to begin, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) is staring at a challenging task of making arrangements for a new sports kit for the Indian contingent — without the China imprint.

On June 3, the IOA had unveiled the ceremonial and competition kits in the presence of sports minister Kiren Rijiju, the chief guest. The occasion also marked the 50-day countdown for the July 23-August 8 Tokyo Olympic Games. 

Six days later, the sports kits sporting the logos of a Chinese company, which is an IOA sponsor, has become a controversial issue, considering the relations between India and China. 

So, how did the IOA wake up to the Chinese connection on the athletes’ apparel? “Someone from the Prime Minister Office (PMO) raised the issue to avoid having Chinese company logo,” said a source.

Following directions from the sports ministry, the IOA issued a statement, saying that keeping in mind the sentiments of the fans, Indian athletes’ kit would be without the Chinese company’s logo.

This last minute change of kits seems to have created a challenge to get new kits prepared quickly. 

“We are anticipating a crisis close to the Olympics as several athletes might not get proper sports kits. The process of qualification in some disciplines like athletics and swimming is still on,” an official of a National Sports Federation (NSF) told IANS.

On June 8, the IOA said in a statement: “We are thankful for guidance by the ministry of youth affairs and sports in making this decision. We would like our athletes to be able to train and compete without having to answer questions about the apparel brand.” 

Rajiv Mehta, secretary general of IOA wasn’t available for comments. Another IOA official said that in the recent past there wasn’t any border skirmish with the neighbouring China on the border that could have hurt the sentiments of the Indian sports fans.

In August last year, following a standoff between India and China at Ladakh border resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers. Following that the Board of Control for Cricket in India suspended the Indian Premier League title sponsorship by a Chinese mobile company, taking into account the public sentiment.

However, after a year, Chinese company is now back as the IPL title sponsor for the 2021 tournament.

“If the Chinese mobile company could be title sponsors of the IPL cricket tournament why can’t other disciplines get sponsorship,” an official of the IOA said on condition of anonymity.

Li Ling, the Chinese company, had sponsored Indian team sports kit for the 2016 Rio Olympics and the contract was for the Tokyo Olympics too. The same company has sponsored Indian team sports kits for the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and Jakarta Asian Games. “That time the issue wasn’t raised,” said an NSF official.

Birendra Prasad Baishya, Chef de Mission of the Indian contingent for the Tokyo Olympics, didn’t respond to calls and
text messages.