607 days to go

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 December, 2006, 12:00am

When Chinese sharp-shooter Tao Luna set her gun sights on the Doha bullseyes and squeezed the trigger to fire home three golds and one silver medal at the Asian Games, little did she realise that back in the motherland the fortunes of her chosen sport were coming under a hail of friendly fire.

Despite being one of the safest, gun-free capitals in the world, where the loudest bang is a bicycle tyre puncture, Beijing this week tightened its gun control laws - including 'ammunition, explosives and radioactive materials' - as it turned further the security screws for the 2008 Olympics.

Aside from the eerie thought of Russia's underworld or other shadowy figures spiking the Beijing kao ya - Beijing roast duck - dishes of athletes or tourists with polonium-210, the clampdown on guns has shooting clubs across the capital swinging their sights on the government.

'Beijing will no longer approve commercial shooting ranges and hunting ranges, and sports authorities are required to reduce the number of shooting ranges for training purposes and cut down on the number of guns,' said police chief Ma Zhenchuan.

The draconian measures were a further bid to 'secure a safe Olympics in 2008', he said.

Even museums and exhibition halls were targets. 'If they fail to safely display weapons they must remove them,' said Ma, the director of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau.

Gun producers, sellers and professional storing agencies should scale back their commercial arsenals, too, Ma added.

But it was the last decree that has put a spark in the powder keg: 'And guns owned by organisations that are engaged in sport shooting should not be increased,' Ma ruled - and in doing so probably shot down the host nation's chance of dominating the sport in 2008.

China won four shooting golds in Athens - and is honing in on any fringe sports where it can snatch top prize in its quest to blast the US off the leaders' gold medal board.

'These new laws will definitely affect the popularisation of shooting at grassroot level and our performance in 2008,' said the security department officer of the Shooting and Archery Sports Management Centre in Beijing.

'That's where most of the national shooting athletes come from. It is at such clubs that people get the training which is later fostered into future competition talent,' added the officer, who gave his name as Mr Tun.

He said the police had already slashed the number of shooting ranges in Beijing from eight to four.

'The four ranges that have gone were used by sports schools and encouraged young amateur shooters,' said Tun.

Critics say the crackdown is further fallout from a scandal in the capital's shooting fraternity.

Police arrested and charged a member of the Beijing shooting team - who have potential Olympians among their members - after a gun went missing in October. It is alleged the unnamed member took the gun from its secure storage at the team's range, but returned only an empty carrying case. A non-member was then caught with the gun and also arrested.

The team have been banned from entering competitions and their range closed as police officers go through the club's paperwork and operating procedures.

Now under the new laws, all shooting ranges face a wall of bureaucracy whenever members want to access their guns.

Chen Wang, from the General Administration of Sports, said the new Olympic shooting range in the Badachu district of Beijing would be used exclusively by the Chinese Olympic team for training ahead of the games - and the new security measures would not adversely affect their preparations.

'The new range is still under construction and will not be ready until the end of next year. All the shooting athletes trained in Shanghai and Guizhou province for the Asian Games. We haven't decided where the athletes will train before the end of 2007,' said Wang.

The rat-a-tat-tat of keyboard keys can now be heard from scores of amateur shooters who have aimed scorn and derision at the new laws on the internet.

'These regulations may as well go one further and order that everyone should have their hands cut off so as to solve the security problem completely before 2008,' posted one annoyed pistol slinger on a blog for amateur shooters.

'What is it with all these weird laws? Perhaps all the Chinese people should go naked to welcome people from all over the world for the Olympics. We can show we're not terrorists hiding guns under our clothes,' wrote another.

'It's shocking that they have banned shooting ranges and guns for sports use! How stupid these so-called lawmakers are!'