Amateur sports

Amateur sports

Amateurism (from Fr. "amateur" "lover of," from O.Fr., from L. "amatorem" nom. "amator", "lover,"). As a value system, amateurism elevates things done with self-interest above those done for pay ("i.e.," professionalism). The term has particular currency in its usage with regard to sports. By definition amateur sports require participants to participate without remuneration. Amateurism was a zealously guarded ideal in the 19th century, especially among the upper classes, but faced steady erosion throughout the 20th century, and is now strictly held as an ideal by fewer and fewer organizations governing sports, even as they maintain the word "amateur" in their titles.


Modern organised sport developed in the 19th century, with the United Kingdom and the United States taking the lead. Sporting culture was especially strong in private schools and universities, and the upper and middle class men who attended these institutions played as amateurs. Opportunities for working classes to participate in sport were restricted by their long six-day work weeks and Sabbatarianism. In the UK, the Factory Act of 1844 gave working men half a day off, making the opportunity to take part in sport more widely available. Working class sportsmen found it hard to play top level sport due the need to turn up to work. As professional teams developed, some clubs were willing to make "broken time" payments to players, i.e. to pay top sportsmen to take time off work, and as attendances increased, paying men to concentrate on their sport full-time became feasible. Proponents of the amateur ideal deplored the influence of money and the effect it has on sports. It was claimed that it is in the interest of the professional to receive the highest amount of pay possible per unit of performance, not to perform to the highest standard possible where this does not bring additional benefit.

The middle and upper class men who dominated the sporting establishment not only had a theoretical preference for amateurism, they also had a self-interest in blocking the professionalisation of sport, which threatened to make it feasible for the working classes to compete against themselves with success. Working class sportsmen didn't see why they shouldn't be paid to play. Hence there were competing interests between those who wished sport to be open to all and those who feared that professionalism would destroy the 'Corinthian spirit'. This conflict played out over the course of more than one hundred years. Some sports dealt with it relatively easily, such as golf, which decided in the late 1800s to tolerate competition between amateurs and professionals, while others were traumatised by the dilemma, and took generations to fully come to terms with professionalism.

Present day

By the early 21st century the Olympic Games and all the major team sports accepted professional competitors. However, there are still some sports which maintain a distinction between amateur and professional status with separate competitive leagues. The most prominent of these is golf.

Problems can arise for amateur sportsmen when sponsors offer to help with an amateur's playing expenses in the hope of striking lucrative endorsement deals with them in case they become professionals at a later date. This may jeopardize their status as amateurs, and if allowed to let slide, may be seen as corruption or cheating rather than as true "shamateurism."

Where professionals are permitted, it is hard for amateurs to compete against them. Whether this is a triumph of the free market or an example of corruption depends on the viewer's perspective. To some an amateur means an incompetent or also-ran, and to others it means an idealist. To say that the athlete should not be paid can prevent performances only possible for an athlete who is free to pursue the sport fulltime without other sources of income; to make payment for performance the driving engine of the sport can invite cynicism and inflated wages.

The term "stamateurism" is used to describe state-sponsored athletes. It was used as a means of funding athletes in the Eastern Bloc countries.

North American collegiate athletics

All North American university sports are conducted by amateurs. Even the most commercialized college sports, such as NCAA football and basketball, do not financially compensate competitors, although coaches and trainers generally are paid. College football coaches in Texas and other states are often the highest paid state employees, drawing salaries of over one million US dollars annually. Athletic scholarship programs, unlike academic scholarship programs, cannot cover more than the cost of food, housing, tuition, and other university-related expenses. A school can pay an athlete to attend classes. However, a school cannot pay an athlete to play.

In order to ensure that the rules are not circumvented, stringent rules restrict gift-giving during the recruitment process as well as during and even after a collegiate athlete's career; college athletes also cannot endorse products, which some may consider a violation of free speech rights.

Some have criticised this system as exploitative; prominent university athletics programs are major commercial endeavors, and can easily rake in millions of dollars in profit during a successful season. College athletes spend a great deal of time "working" for the university, and earn nothing from it at the time; basketball and football coaches, meanwhile, earn salaries that can compare with those of professional teams' coaches.

Supporters of the system say that college athletes can always make use of the education they earn as students if their athletic career doesn't pan out, and that allowing universities to pay college athletes would rapidly lead to deterioration of the already-marginal academic focus of college athletics programs. They also point out that athletic scholarships allow many young men and women who would otherwise be unable to afford to go to college, or would not be accepted, to get a quality education.


Through most of the 20th century the Olympics nominally only allowed amateur athletes to participate. The amateur code was strictly enforced. Jim Thorpe was stripped of track and field medals for having taken expense money for playing baseball in 1912.

Later on, however, successful Olympians from Western countries often accepted endorsement contracts from sponsors. Complex rules involving the payment of the athlete's earnings into trust funds rather than directly to the athletes themselves, were developed in an attempt to work around this issue, but the intellectual evasion involved was considered embarrassing to the Olympic movement and the key Olympic sports by some. In the same era, the nations of the Communist bloc entered teams of Olympians who were all nominally students, soldiers, or working in a profession, but many of whom were in reality paid by the state to train on a full time basis. (Cuba, North Korea, and to some extent China still do this; although China allows professionalism in popular team sports, it can be assumed that athletes in disciplines such as gymnastics from these countries are trained in state academies and have state-given stipends.)

After the 1972 retirement of IOC President Avery Brundage, the Olympic amateurism rules were steadily relaxed and in many areas amount only to technicalities and lip service. In the United States, the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 prohibits national governing bodies from having more stringent standards of amateur status than required by international governing bodies of respective sports.

Olympic regulations regarding amateur status of athletes were eventually abandoned in the 1990s with the exception of boxing, where the rules for participation still require amateur status rather than professional status for the safety of the participants.



English first-class cricket distinguished between amateur and professional cricketers until 1963. Teams below Test cricket level in England were normally, except in emergencies such as injuries, captained by amateurs. Notwithstanding this ways were sometimes found to give high performing "amateurs", for example W.G.Grace, financial and other compensation such as employment.

On English overseas tours, some of which in the nineteenth century were arranged and led by professional cricketer-promoters such as James Lillywhite, Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury, a more pragmatic approach generally prevailed.

In England the division was reflected in, and for a long time reinforced by, the series of Gentlemen v Players matches between amateurs and professionals. Few cricketers changed their status, but there were some notable exceptions such as Wally Hammond who became (or was allowed to become) an amateur in 1938 so that he could captain England.

Professionals were often expected to address amateurs, at least to their faces, as "Mister" or "Sir" whereas the amateurs often referred to professionals by their surnames. Newspaper reports often prefaced amateurs' names with "Mr" while professionals were referred to by surname, or sometimes surname and initials. At some grounds amateurs and professionals had separate dressing rooms and entered the playing arena through separate gates.

After the Second World War the division was increasingly questioned. When Len Hutton was appointed as English national cricket captain in 1952 he remained a professional. In 1962 the division was removed, and all cricket players became known as "cricketers".


In Australia the amateur-professional division was rarely noticed in the years before World Series Cricket, as many top level players expected to receive something for their efforts on the field: before World War 1 profit-sharing of tour proceeds was common. Australian cricketers touring England were considered amateurs and given the title 'Mr" in newspaper reports.

Pre-partition India

Before the Partition of India some professionalism developed, but talented cricketers were often employed by wealthy princely or corporate patrons and thus retained a notional amateur status.

Women's cricket

Women's cricket is, and always has been, almost entirely amateur.

Association football

Boot money has been a phenomenon in amateur sport for centuries. The term "boot money" became popularized in the 1880s when it was not unusual for players to find half a crown (corresponding to 12½ pence after decimalisation) in their boots after a game.

The Football Association prohibited paying players until 1885, and this is referred to as the "legalization" of professionalism because it was an amendment of the "Laws of the Game". However, a maximum salary cap of twelve pounds a week for a player with outside employment and fifteen pounds a week for a player with no outside employment lingered until the 1960s even as transfer fees reached over a hundred thousand pounds; again, "boot money" was seen as a way of topping up pay. Today the most prominent English football clubs that are not professional are semi-professional (paying part-time players more than the old maximum for top professionals; this includes all the major existing women's clubs, in which full professionalism has not taken root yet) and the most prominent true amateur men's club is probably Queens Park F.C.. The oldest football club in Scotland, founded in 1867 and with a home ground which is one of the twenty-nine UEFA five-star stadia. They have also won the Scottish Cup more times than any club outside the Old Firm. Amateur football in both genders is now found mainly in small village and Sunday clubs and the Amateur Football Alliance.


Sailing has taken the opposite course. Around the turn of the century, much of sailing was professionals paid by interested idle rich. Today, sailing, especially dinghy sailing, is an example of a sport which is still largely populated by amateurs. For example, in the recent Team Racing Worlds, and certainly the American Team Racing Nationals, most of the sailors competing in the event were amateurs. While many competitive sailors are employed in businesses related to sailing (primarily sailmaking, naval architecture, boatbuilding and coaching), most are not compensated for their own competitions. In large keelboat racing, such as the Volvo Around the World Race and the America's Cup, this amateur spirit has given way in recent years to large corporate sponsorships and paid crews, but even there one will occasionally find a team that stays true to the Corinthian ideal.

Figure Skating

Like other Olympic sports, figure skating used to have very strict amateur status rules. Over the years, these rules were relaxed to allow competitive skaters to receive token payments for performances in exhibitions (amid persistent rumors that they were receiving more money "under the table"), then to accept money for professional activities such as endorsements provided that the payments were made to trust funds rather than to the skaters themselves.

In 1992, trust funds were abolished, and the International Skating Union voted both to remove most restrictions on amateurism, and to allow skaters who had previously lost their amateur status to apply for reinstatement of their eligibility. A number of skaters, including Brian Boitano, Katarina Witt, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, and Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, took advantage of the reinstatement rule to compete at the 1994 Winter Olympics. However, when all of these skaters promptly returned to the pro circuit again, the ISU decided the reinstatement policy was a failure and it was discontinued in 1995.

Prize money at ISU competitions was introduced in 1995, paid by the sale of the television rights to those events. In addition to prize money, Olympic-eligible skaters may also earn money through appearance fees at shows and competitions, endorsements, movie and television contracts, coaching, and other "professional" activities, provided that their activities are approved by their national federations. The only activity that is strictly forbidden by the ISU is participating in unsanctioned "pro" competitions, which the ISU uses to maintain their monopoly status as the governing body in the sport. [ [ Competitive Figure Skating FAQ:Rules and Regulations] ]

Many people in the skating world still use "turning pro" as jargon to mean retiring from competitive skating, even though most top competitive skaters are already full-time professionals, and many skaters who retire from competition to concentrate on show skating or coaching do not actually lose their competition eligibility in the process.


Rugby has provided one of the most visible and lasting examples of the tension between amateurism and professionalism during the development of nationally-organised sports in Britain in the late-1800s. The emergence of rugby league, initially in the form of a breakaway governing body but subsequently as an entirely separate code from the more established sport of rugby union, arose as a direct result of a dispute over the latter's strict enforcement of its amateur status.

Rugby football, despite its origins in the privileged English public schools, was a popular game throughout England by around 1880, including in the large working-class areas of the industrial north. However, as the then-amateur sport became increasingly popular and competitive, attracting large paying crowds, teams in such areas found it difficult to attract and retain good players. This was because physically fit local men needed to both work to earn a wage - limiting the time that they could devote to unpaid sport - and to avoid injuries that might prevent them working in the future. Certain teams faced with these circumstances wanted to pay so-called 'broken time' money to their players to compensate them for missing paid work due to their playing commitments, but this contravened the amateur policy of the Rugby Football Union (RFU).

Following a lengthy dispute on this point during the early 1890s, representatives of more than 20 prominent northern rugby clubs met in Huddersfield in August 1895 to form the Northern Rugby Football Union (NRFU), a breakaway administrative body which would permit payments to be made to players. The NRFU initially adopted established RFU rules for the game itself, but soon introduced a number of changes, most obviously a switch from 15 to 13 players per side. It became the Rugby Football League in 1922, by which time the key differences in the two codes were well established, with the 13-a-side variant becoming known as rugby league.

The RFU took strong action against the clubs involved in the formation of the NRFU, all of whom were deemed to have forfeited their amateur status and therefore to have left the RFU. A similar interpretation was applied to all players who played either for or against such clubs, whether or not they themselves received any compensation. Such players were effectively barred "sine die" from any involvement in organised rugby union. These comprehensive and enduring sanctions, combined with the very localised nature of most rugby competition, meant that most northern clubs had little practical option but to affiliate with the NRFU in the first few years of it existence.

Rugby football in Britain therefore became subject to a de-facto schism along regional, and to some extent class, lines, reflecting the historical origins of the split. Rugby league - in which professionalism was permitted - was predominant in northern England, particularly in industrial areas, and was viewed as working class game. Rugby union - which remained amateur - was predominant in the rest of England, as well as in Wales and Scotland. Rugby union also had a more affluent reputation, although there are areas - notably in South Wales and in certain English cities such as Gloucester - with a strong working-class rugby union tradition.

Discrimination against rugby league players could verge on the petty - even as late as the 1970s an English rugby union club was instructed to dismiss a cleaner who was married to a professional rugby league player.Fact|date=March 2008

The Scottish Rugby Union was a particular bastion of amateurism and extreme care was taken to avoid the taint of professionalism: a player rejoining the national team after the end of the Second World War applied to be issued with a new shirt and was reminded that he had been "supplied with a shirt prior to the outbreak of hostilities".Fact|date=March 2008

In Wales the position was more equivocal with clubs attempting to stem the tide of players "going north" with "boot money" a reference to the practice of putting cash payments into player's footwear whilst they were cleaning up after a game. Sometimes payments were substantial. Barry John was once asked why he hadn't turned professional and responded "I couldn't afford to",

Rugby union was declared "open" in August 1995 - almost exactly 100 years after the original split occurred - meaning that professionalism has been permitted in both rugby codes since that date. However, while the professional-amateur divide remained in force, there was originally very limited crossover between the two codes, the most obvious occasions being when top-class rugby union players 'switched codes' to rugby league in order to play professionally. Welsh international Jonathan Davies was a high-profile example of this switch. Since professionalism has been allowed in Rugby Union the switches have started to come the opposite way. Union has swiftly grown to embrace the professional game with many Lerague players joining union to take a slice of the larger amounts of money available in the sport.

Other sports

Rowing is one of the most sincere forms of amateur sports. In Ireland, the Gaelic Athletic Association, or GAA, protects the amateur status of the country's national sports, including Gaelic football, Hurling and Camogie. Major tennis championships prohibited professionals until 1968 but the subsequent admission of professionals virtually eliminated amateurs from public visibility. Golf still has amateur championships but their champions are far more obscure than professional champions and very few of those who compete in open events are not professionals. Paying players was considered disreputable in baseball until 1869.


Martial Arts

ee also

* Amateur and professional cricketers
* Gaelic Athletic Association
* Boot money scandal
* History of rugby union
* History of rugby league
* Professional sports
* Athletic director

External links

* [ CBC Digital Archives - Funding of Amateur Sports]

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