When the sport of the elite becomes a sport for the masses, it's time to notch up a victory for social mobility. And when that sport has been associated, not just with any old elite, but with actual kings, and the masses are the billion-plus population of China, the transition is all the more striking.
But it is with mixed feelings that we learn how enthusiastically the Chinese have taken to polo. To be sure, they have the threads of tradition: the Mongols to the north and east and the Uighurs of Xinjiang have been expert horsemen for centuries. Nor can there be any doubt that a sport once played exclusively by imperial interlopers is bound to exert a particular fascination.
But we can't help worrying about the acreage that will be needed to provide the pitches, and the number of ponies and the quantities of fodder and water that will be required if polo seriously takes off in China. And if that isn't enough to erect huge warning signs, just imagine the number of horseboxes that will be holding up the traffic on inadequate roads. So it is probably a good thing that, for the time being, polo looks likely to remain the preserve of China's new country-club elite. They will doubtless hope that it stays that way for their own reasons. But perhaps we should hope that, too, for ours.