Mumbai: Shooter Gagan Narang became the first Indian athlete to say Dow Chemical should be allowed to be a sponsor of the 2012 London Games even though the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) wants the organisers to reconsider it. (Agencies)
Narang, the first Indian competitor to qualify for next year's Olympics, said the company, linked to the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, should be given an opportunity at "redemption".
Chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, of which Bhopal is the provincial capital, has led a protest, seeking a boycott of the London Games.
The Indian government has also waded into the debate, asking IOA to talk to the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) about the partnership with the company.
Activists say 25,000 people died in the immediate aftermath of the accident and in ensuing years, and about 100,000 people who were exposed to the gas continue to suffer today from ailments that range from cancer, blindness to birth defects.
"I feel deeply for the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy. People responsible for the disaster should be punished," Narang, India's Commonwealth Games hero, said on Thursday.
At the time of the Bhopal disaster, the pesticide plant was owned by Union Carbide, which settled its liabilities with the Indian government in 1989 by paying USD 470 million for the victims.
Dow bought Union Carbide in 1999 and now finds itself in the firing line for its sponsorship of a temporary decorative wrap around London's Olympic Stadium.
Many victims and activists hold Dow responsible for failing to give enough compensation to victims and some have called for a boycott of the London Games.
"But even if we think Dow had an involvement, sponsoring Olympics will be redemption for them too," Narang added in a text message.
"If a company or an individual wants redemption, it should be allowed."
IOC president Jacques Rogge said in an interview on Tuesday that the IOA has been advised to talk to the athletes over the impasse.
According to the 28-year-old Narang, who won four gold medals in Delhi Commonwealth Games last year, boycotting the Games would only "hurt" the athletes who aspire to represent their country at the prestigious event.
"As an athlete we will go there as ambassadors of our country to compete, in the true spirit of sportsmanship to give our best and win medals," Narang, also the recipient of the country's highest sports award, said.
"A sponsor's deed should not hurt that."
Mumbai: Shooter Gagan Narang became the first Indian athlete to say Dow Chemical should be allowed to be a sponsor of the 2012 London Games even though the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) wants the organisers to reconsider it.