The apparel Indian contingent will don at the Rio Olympics will have the tricolour on chest, but it might also bear a ‘Made in China’ tag on the back. Not that the athletes will mind, though. For long, their grouse has been that the kits they were provided were inferior compared to those worn by athletes from other countries. Some, like boxer Jai Bhagwan, even ditched the training kit at the London Olympics, claiming it was torn and of poor quality.

In Rio, however, it might be different. The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has signed a sponsorship deal with leading Chinese sports apparel manufacturing firm Li Ning for the Games, doing away with the trend of awarding contracts to Indian firms who have been accused of using substandard quality. The deal with Li Ning is believed to be in the range of Rs 2.5-3 crore — including cash and barter components — making it the biggest apparel sponsorship deal the IOA has managed so far.

Li Ning were also in the running for the London Olympics along with Indian firm Shiv Naresh, but the IOA preferred little-known Rohtak firm Dida over them, signing a deal worth Rs 50 lakh. In Beijing, Shiv Naresh was India’s kit sponsors but the IOA did not generate any sponsorship revenue from that deal.

As a part of the deal, Li Ning will provide tracksuits along with training and match kits for a contingent of approximately 150 athletes and officials.

Neerav Tomar, MD of IOA’s commercial partners IOS Sports & Entertainment, said they had offers from three brands, including an Indian firm. “We were evaluating the kitting side and believed good design and quality will be the baseline. We zeroed down on Li Ning. They are an international brand, among the biggest in Asia and have presence all over the world. Their quality is on a par with other major apparel giants,” Tomar said.

Seventy five Indian athletes have qualified for the Rio Games, which will be held from August 5 to 21. The number is expected to cross three figures for the first time ever with the qualification in several sports entering the home stretch.

The IOA has been heavily criticised in the past for doing little on the apparel front for major multi-discipline events. However, a senior official said they received feedback from players and decided to act on it. “This time, there was a conscious effort to improve the situation. A lot of athletes had complained about the previous kits. It may seem a minor issue but for them, it’s about self-confidence and appearance,” an official said.