BEIJING, January 29 – Chinese official media and web users poured scorn on local government officials Wednesday after they gave multi-millionaire tennis star Li Na an 800,000 yuan ($132,000/Sh11.395m) reward for winning the Australian Open.
Li was handed a giant red cheque by Wang Guosheng, governor of her home province of Hubei, as soon as she landed back from Melbourne on Monday.
The 31-year-old had already received prize money of A$2.65 million ($2.3 million/Sh197.8m)for winning the Australian Open — her second Grand Slam title.
Chinese Internet users, angry at the additional reward given by local officials, accused them of wasting taxpayers’ money that could have been used to address the needs of the poor.
“The government and the party should stop spending money as they wish,” said a poster on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo.
“The cash is taxpayers’ and should be spent on people in need, not abused in a (political) charade,” they added.
The official Xinhua news agency also weighed in, carrying a commentary on Wednesday that called the event “embarrassing” and “money-worshipping”.
“A bonus from the government is by no means Li Na’s most wanted reward after she won the Grand Slam title… perhaps only China’s sports authorities value the power of money so much,” said Xinhua.
It cited Xiao Huanyu, a sports professor in Shanghai, as saying: “The government deems sports achievement a kind of political achievement. Therefore it needed to hand out the bonus to ‘show its face’ even though Li Na’s triumph had little to do with the government.”
Li opted out of China’s rigid state sports system in 2008 to go it alone, hiring her own coaches and controlling more of her winnings in a career-defining move, and regularly says she represents only herself.
The Hubei provincial government previously gave her a 600,000 yuan bonus after her historic first Grand Slam triumph, the 2011 French Open, which she later donated to a local nursing house.
The Beijing News also defended Li — who has a sometimes troubled relationship with Chinese media — publishing a commentary Wednesday branding local officials as opportunists.
“This group of people has remained the same all along — they will not endure failure with you but they are more than happy to share your victory,” said the article, written under the alias of Xiao Shiyilang — a Robin Hood-like character from a kung fu novel who steals from the rich to give to the poor.