From Academic Kids

Amateurism is the philosophy that elevates things done without self-interest above things done for pay, especially with regard to sports.

A zealously guarded ideal in the 19th century, it faced steady decline throughout the 20th century and is now held to by few organizations even if they maintain the word Amateur in their titles. The International Olympic Committee now demands of sport governing bodies that they have a lenient attitude toward professional athletes where once anyone taking money in any way for any sport was forbidden to compete in any sport. Jim Thorpe was stripped of track and field medals for having taken expense money for playing baseball in 1912. 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.

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. Other sports have similarly gone from allowing only amateurs (paying players was explicitly prohibited by the rules of soccer until 1885 and disreputable in baseball until 1869) to being thoroughly dominated by professionals.

Strict prohibition of professionals can be said to inhibit stated goals of celebrating the highest standards of performance, and this argument has generally defeated amateurism around the world in many sports. However, many deplore the influence of money and the effect it has left unchecked. After all, 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.

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 and to others 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. A truly idealist maximization of athletic excellence without mercenary motive seems beyond human capacity.


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