The modern Olympics were created after Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee in 1894. De Coubertin had envisioned the Olympic Games as an international stage for amateur athletes to showcase their skills, but through the years, professional athletes have slowly been integrated into the Games. Two contributors weigh in on whether professionals should be allowed to participate in the Olympic Games.
Faster. Higher. Stronger. This is the motto and the purpose of the Olympics: to see who is the best in the world. If professional athletes are prohibited from competition, then the athlete who wins succeeds in a competition that has age and skill restrictions— not a competition that actually determines the best of the best.
How does playing in a professional league—and being paid—make athletes unqualified to compete? Just like amateur athletes, these individuals have put in thousands of hours of training and hours of playing time in order to make it to the Olympics. The Olympics are the highest level that an athlete can play at, regardless of whether they are a professional or an amateur. It is a collection of the world’s greatest athletes under one roof, creating an environment for the best games and performances.
Furthermore, just because they are professional athletes does not make them a shoo-in for the finals. Everyone points to the 1992 American basketball Dream Team as the prime example for why professionals should not be allowed to play because of their overt domination of their opponents. But that instance is the exception. European basketball teams still give the United States a run for their money. In hockey, Canada— despite producing the most NHL players— has only won gold twice since professionals were allowed to play. Having professional athletes compete is not a negative component to the Olympics. Upsets happen on a regular basis and having these athletes present makes the competition that much more exciting.
As for the managers and owners of professional teams who worry about their players getting injured: that risk is a part of the game. It is present every time a player is in practice, in a game, or in training.
Finally, professional athletes raise the credibility of certain sports. Figure skating, gymnastics, archery, and bobsledding benefit immensely from professional athletes competing. Athletic celebrities make sports more popular among fans. As a result, there is more support from society and from sponsors which only helps the building of a strong foundation for a variety of sports. This also helps the standard of competition for the future.
Yes: professional athletes have the opportunity to represent a team every day of the year, whether it be the Buffalo Bills, the Chelsea Football Club, or the Toronto Raptors. However, to have the chance to represent their country is an honour that comes to a select few. If they have the talent, then they should have the opportunity to don their country’s colours and bring home a medal.
— Rebecca Babcock
An idealist with a vision created the Olympics. An educator at heart, Coubertin was inspired to create the Olympics, an international festival of sport where international and class boundaries were broken down as all celebrated the art of physical pursuits.
Professionals do not celebrate this ideal; rather, they are paid to win and to provide a spectacle for the public. They are not indulgent in the way an amateur is. There is no celebration of physical pursuits and the character traits that are present within the amateur. Professional sports discriminate in the sense that coming first is what matters. The Olympics were envisioned as anything but discriminating; it is about what happens on the journey in the quest for the number one spot, not the spot itself.
However, some may counter that amateurism is an outdated and classist concept that recognizes no subtlety, and that professionalism should be expected when performing in an event such as the Olympics. For example, the Soviet Bloc’s state—sponsored athletes were professionals in all but name, but by the definition of amateurism could not be banned from the Olympics. I would partially agree: amateurism has been used far too often as a tool to segregate the upper from working-class athletes—the latter who did not have the luxury to hone their craft.
Furthermore, the likes of Avery Brundage, the fifth president of the International Olympic Committee, have twisted it in order to diminish certain athletic achievements—such as refusing to reinstate Jim Thorpe’s stripped gold medals from the 1912 Olympics, which he lost his medals after it was found that he had temporarily played minor league baseball. However, Coubertin—who was pragmatic in his views of amateurism—believed that rules regarding amateurism should be shifted according to the social times. Celebrating sport is what the Olympics is about, and the definition of amateurism with regards to the Olympics should reflect that.
Finally, the argument that professional athletes help to popularize sporting participation is just dead wrong. Olympic success drives funding in many countries. The recent failure of the British basketball team has done damage to the program’s grassroots funding, despite the presence of the American superstars at London 2012. People need to be shown that they can play sports; not be shown famous people who do play sports.
It is not naïve to believe we can have a worldwide event that encourages mass participation and celebrates physical activity; there are many of these in the artistic and scientific fields. Indeed, it is important to have an Olympics that embodies these values. With the presence of professional athletes, the Olympics are indistinguishable from any other international sporting event.
— Zikomo Smith
Editor’s pick: professionalism
Although professional athletes have historically had a tumultuous relationship with the Olympics, the Games are, at its core, an exhibition for the best athletes in the world. To exclude professionals from the Olympics does not benefit the overall advancement of sport, and penalizes those athletes who want to represent their country.