Just days after the Games, many Indian athletes including PV Sindhu have found themselves in the midst of a controversy over the sportswear they used during their matches. Official sponsor of the Indian contingent, Li Ning, have complained to the IOA regarding the use of a rival brand's apparel.
Li Ning were the official sponsors of the Indian contingent and had entered into a 3 crore sponsorship deal with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) ahead of the Games. The deal made it mandatory that Indian players wear the Li Ning kits while participating in their matches.
However, the Olympics began on a sour note for the contingent when the men's hockey team did not attend the ceremony after they found that their match kits were not of the appropriate size. The kits have come back into the center of another controversy after it was revealed that Li Ning have approached the IOA to express their displeasure at multiple members of the Indian contingent had worn their rivals' apparel at Rio, reported Mumbai Mirror.
Mahender Kapoor, Li Ning's distributor in India and MD Sunlight Sports Pvt. Ltd, said, "We were the official kitting sponsors and are also supporting the Paralympic team. We have got very good support from IOA and the players but a couple of players wore the rival brand apparel and we have complained against it," reported the publication.
Kapoor also said that he had brought up the issue to the knowledge of the IOA officials while the Games were ongoing but refrained from blaming the athletes. "I won't blame the players. But someone was putting pressure on them," he said without naming the rival brand directly.
The rival brand in question appears to be Yonex, the chief opponent of Li Ning in the badminton space. Both have been at loggerheads in the recent past for market space and sponsorship deals of sportsmen.
However, IOA General Secretary Rajiv Mehta feigned ignorance of the issue, reported the Mirror.
The publication quoted a source from the IOA as saying, “Some players were not comfortable in the kit given to them or wanted to wear a particular colour,".
The source also added that the issue was not deliberate and at the behest of anyone but had more to do with the preference of the athletes and unavoidable issues like having to wear jerseys of an opposite color to that of opponents.
"Sindhu and Srikanth wore the official kit in the earlier rounds. In Sindhu's case, she had chosen red and yellow as her two colours since she felt that they were lucky for her. From the quarter-final onwards, her opponents who were ranked higher and had a choice of colour, picked red and hence she had no option but to wear yellow.
"Since she did not have that colour in the official kit, she had no choice but to wear Yonex," the source added, reported Mirror.