Teeing off is not a crime, the Communist party of China has decreed, lifting millions of fairway fanatics out of the rough.
Banned by Mao Zedong – who despised the “sport for millionaires” – golf enjoyed a renaissance during the 80s and 90s only to be outlawed for the party’s 85 million members in 2015 as a result of president Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive.
Articles in the party-controlled media have painted China’s golf courses as cauldrons of profiteering where the palms of rotten officials are greased by favour-seeking business people.
“The golf course is gradually changing into a muddy field where they trade money for power,” one state-run newspaper complained in 2015.
Party leaders appeared to step back from their condemnation of the game this week.
“Since it is only a sport, there is no right or wrong about playing golf,” an article in the Discipline Inspection and Supervision News, the official newspaper of China’s anti-corruption agency, declared.
The newspaper pointed to article 87 of the Communist party’s disciplinary regulations which deals with potential punishments for the illicit possession of golf membership cards.
“Can officials play golf while the nation steps up efforts to clamp down on corruption and promote austerity?” the China Daily asked. “The answer is yes – if they pay out of their own pockets.”
“Playing golf itself is not a wrongdoing,” the newspaper confirmed.
A report in the Global Times tabloid suggested the Communist party continued to harbour serious reservations about golf.
Su Wei, an academic at a school for Communist party cadres in Chongqing, told the newspaper Chinese golf course had become “an arena for corruption” where bribes were routinely offered to government officials.
“Golf can satisfy some officials’ vanity, corrupting their lifestyle, which can lead to damage to the Party’s image and the erosion of officials’ ability to serve,” Su was quoted sa saying.
China’s burgeoning golfing community is one of many to have been affected by president Xi’s bid to eradicate corruption.
Since he came to power some of the party’s most powerful figures have been thrown into jail including former security chief Zhou Yongkang and some of the most senior members of the People’s Liberation Army.
Speaking in January Xi used words straight from the clubhouse to announce his determination to cleanse China’s government.
“To forge iron,” he said, “one must be strong.”
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