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Tokyo 2020 Olympics: India drops Chinese brand Li-Ning after ‘public backlash’

India’s Dipa Karmakar competes wearing Li-Ning sportswear during the artistic gymnastics test event for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Photo: AFP

The Indian Olympic Association’s decision to drop Chinese sportswear giant Li-Ning as their official partner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics next month has been met with a response from China’s foreign ministry, risking the issue becoming another source of tension between the countries.

“We hope India can view regular cooperation between countries objectively and fairly, and avoid politicising the issue,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said this week.

This comes despite the IOA saying that they did not want the issue of who made the uniforms to be a distraction.

Relations between the two countries have soured with 20 Indian soldiers killed in border clashes last year and the IOA cited public backlash as the reason for dropping the Chinese brand.

India unveiled their Li-Ning produced teamwear earlier this month on the 50-day countdown to Tokyo on July 23, but they have made a quick about face in response to a public outcry.

The country’s athletes will now wear unbranded apparel for the Tokyo Games, according to a statement from IOA president Narinder Batra and secretary general Rajeev Mehta.

“We are aware of the emotions of our fans and we … have decided that we will withdraw from our existing contract with an apparel sponsor,” they said.

“Our athletes, coaches and support staff will wear unbranded apparel.” The IOA said it was because of “sentiments of the people of the country” in a statement on Tuesday.

The deal with Li-Ning was set to expire after the Tokyo Games. Li-Ning outfitted the Indian team at the last Olympic Games in Rio in 2016. It was also the technical partner for India at the Youth Olympic Games and the 2018 Asian Games.

Li-Ning was one of the domestic brands to see an increase in sales after Chinese consumers boycotted foreign brands such as Nike and Adidas over their stance on Xinjiang cotton earlier this year.