Indian Olympic Association on Tuesday decided to drop Chinese sportswear Li Ning as its official kit sponsor for the Olympics and decided that the country’s athletes will wear unbranded apparel during the Tokyo Games scheduled to be held from July 23 to August 8.

The IOA had unveiled the Olympic kit designed by Li Ning for the Tokyo Games last week, which led to criticism. It has been learnt that the Sports Ministry then advised IOA to not include a Chinese sponsor for the Games.

“We are aware of the emotions of our fans and we in a IOA have decided that we will withdraw from our existing contract with an apparel sponsor,” IOA president Narinder Batra and secretary general Rajeev Mehta said in a statement.

“Our athletes, coaches and support staff, will wear unbranded apparel.”

There have been calls for boycott of Chinese products since tension had increased at the LAC between the Indian army and Chinese troops last year.

“We are thankful for guidance by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in making this decision,” Batra and Mehta 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 pandemic over the past year and a quarter and we want them to be not distracted.”

As per sources, IOA is talking to a couple of companies and trying to ensure that the athletes don’t go unbranded at quadrennial extravaganza.

“We are in discussions with a couple of brands. Let’s see how things pan out,” the official said.

The official ceremonial kits are sponsored by Raymonds.

The IOA officials said “they were aware of the dedicated efforts by the nation’s elite athletes and their coaching and support staff and are looking forward to a good performance by them Olympic Games.”

“We have had an excellent synergy in the ecosystem within IOA, National Sports Federations, Government and other stakeholders coming together as one.”

Update on Wednesday:

On Wednesday, IOA president Narinder 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 told PTI.

“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.”

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.

China, on Wednesday, urged India to view bilateral cooperation in an “objective and fair manner” in response to the IOA’s decision to drop Li Ning.

“As for the specific business cooperation, I am not aware of it,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a media briefing here responding to a question on the IOA’s decision.

“We hope that the Indian side will be objective and fair in viewing our normal cooperation between the two countries rather than politicising the issue,” he said.

But late on Wednesday, Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju said the country’s athletes will not wear branded apparel. His statement came hours after IOA president Narinder Batra told PTI 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.