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India drops a Chinese apparel giant as its Tokyo Olympics sponsor after social media backlash

Selective outrage?
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This post has been updated.

Following harsh criticism on social media, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) on June 9 said it had ended its contract with China’s Li-Ning for the sponsorship of sports attire, and travel and playing kits for India’s Tokyo Olympics contingent.

The 100-member team from India that will participate in the event that starts on July 23 will now be wearing sports apparel with no brand name on it.

“We are aware of the emotions of our fans and we in the IOA have decided that we will withdraw from our existing contract with an apparel sponsor. Our athletes, coaches, and support staff will wear unbranded apparel,” IOA president Narinder Batra and secretarygeneral Rajeev Mehta said in a joint statement.

Li-Ning and India’s Tokyo Olympics contingent

The IOA had first signed a deal with Li-Ning in May 2018. Besides the Tokyo Olympics, the deal, which was said to value at around Rs6 crore ($822,966), included the Indian teams and officials who participated in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games and the 2018 Olympic Youth Games.

On June 3, when India’s sports minister unveiled the Olympic team’s uniforms, many Indians were not happy that IOA had not reviewed the pact. Some believed this highlights the Narendra Modi government’s hypocrisy in dealing with Chinese firms.


Indians’ anger was not misplaced. Last year, after 20 Indian soldiers died in a standoff between the two Asian neighbours, thousands of Indians spent weeks expressing their rage by smashing their Chinese smartphones and TV sets. #BoycottChina trended on Indian social media for weeks as the Modi government banned over 100 Chinese apps, including the wildly popular short-video platform TikTok.

This anti-China wave forced the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to stop Chinese smartphone brand Vivo from being the sponsor for the Indian Premium League tournament.

At the time, the IOA had also said it will review the deal with Li-Ning. “We have a tie-up with them until Tokyo Olympics. We’ll discuss the matter in our annual general meeting. Our approach will always be the country first,” IOA general secretary Rajeev Mehta told Reuters in June 2020.

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