Marksmen fed up with shooting blanks

MUMBAI, India Fri Mar 28, 2008 11:08am EDT

1 of 2. India's Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore shoots during the men's double trap shooting final at the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar December 5, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/Caren Firouz

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MUMBAI, India (Reuters) - India's marksmen are threatening to boycott the Beijing Olympics unless the government steps in to help alleviate a shortage of ammunition for training.

The nation's leading medal prospects for the August Games are in shooting, with Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore fancied to bring home a gold medal after winning a double trap silver four years ago in Athens.

However, the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) secretary Baljit Singh Sethi said a shortage of ammunition for air weapon competitors was hampering preparations.

On Friday, Sethi was quoted in the local media as saying the government provided the NRAI with all ammunition for 23 years but stopped doing so two and a half years ago.

"I don't think it will be worthwhile sending the shooters to the Olympics. The damage has been done. I will take the issue up in our next general body meeting next month," Sethi said.

"It's a pity that the shooters were the best medal hopes and they are treated so shabbily."

Over the years, the NRAI depended on the sports ministry for equipment but recently, the government instructed the federation to import ammunition itself.

"They informed us on December 13 that we have to apply for the import license," Sethi said.

A shooting official told Reuters on Friday they were unaware of the correct procedure for the import of ammunition and the cost was also a restrictive factor. Despite being the world's second-most populous nation, India has only won four individual medals in Olympic history since they sent their first team to the Summer Games in 1928.

Their men's hockey team, eight-times winners, will miss the Olympics for the first time after failing to qualify earlier this month.

A mix of archers, athletes, wrestlers, boxers and a swimmer have already qualified for Beijing.

(Reporting by Sanjay Rajan; Editing by John O'Brien)

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