Alternately, Princeton University's Wordnet defines Amateurism as "n : the conviction that people should participate in sports as a hobby (for the fun of it) rather than for money."


An amateur is currently defined by The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language as "an athlete who has never accepted money, or who accepts money under restrictions specified by a regulatory body, for participating in a competition." Athletes are classified either as amateurs or professionals; once an amateur turns professional, he or she cannot usually regain amateur status. The concept of amateurism has both good and bad facets, and its origin dates back to the rigid European class system of the 19th century.

A common characteristic of the European middle and upper classes of that period was that they did not wish to share their culture with the majority lower class. Although they only considered sports their "pastime", this concept of exclusion was nevertheless explicitly applied there, primarily through the concept of amateurism. Amateurism is currently perceived as a means of ensuring that those who participate in sport do so for the love of it rather than for the money; however, during the Victorian age, proponents of the requirement were explicit in their desire to use amateurism to exclude the lower classes.

The oldest and strictest code of amateurism lists four ways an athlete can lose his amateur status and thus turn professional: by accepting a cash prize, by competing with a professional, by receiving a salary as a sports instructor or coach, or by taking part in "open" events (which are open to all comers). While acceptance of a cash prize is compatible with the modern concept of a professional act, the other three manners of losing amateur status are more obscure due to their roots in the Victorian class system (and its counterparts in the European mainland).

The Victorian class system depended on strict borders between the classes. It was therefore necessary that upper and middle class athletes be prevented from competing with the lower classes in sport. Preventing rich athletes from taking part in "open" events effectively prohibited them from participating in events for commoners, since all "closed" events were for the wealthy. On the other hand, the poor were prevented from competing in "upper class" sports by ensuring that they could not afford to do so as amateurs. Since amateurs could not receive cash prizes, or work as instructors or coaches, they had no hope of financial gain from the effort, and therefore could not leave their jobs for the pursuit. Finally, the code ensured that those who broke it were ostracized, by branding as professionals those who participated in sports with athletes who were already considered professional.

Coubertin recognized the importance of ensuring that sports participants participate for the fun of it, but could not justify a code he considered archaic. He considered the regulation against competing with a professional too absolutist, the regulation against acting as an instructor or coach vastly too superficial, and the regulation against "open" events as one without any meaning whatsoever. He therefore proposed a more modern solution to the problem of amateurism.

According to Coubertin's suggestion, an athlete would be considered professional in a sport if he competed for cash prizes in that sport. Instructors and coaches would be redefined as non-professional, the ban on "open" events would be dropped, and competition with other professionals as an amateur would be allowed. Moreover, he felt that an athlete could be a professional in one sport, and an amateur in another. Coubertin did want to enforce the regulation against athletes receiving cash prizes for sports in which they were amateurs, however, (which was not necessarily a bad rule in and of itself, as it promoted sport for enjoyment), although he felt that amateurs should still be reimbursed for their expenses. To enforce this remaining rule, he proposed requiring an oath to be taken at all sporting events, and creating an official regulatory party in charge of disciplinary action against those who lied under oath. Since lying under oath is considered perjury, Coubertin figured this would be an important deterrent.

Coubertin's ideas were not immediately put into action, but he made an important step toward the eventual abandonment of the amateurism ideal by voicing his opposition to the concept as IOC president. Today, amateurism only applies to figure skating; in all other Olympic events, the term "amateur" has lost meaning, and so athletes can make millions of dollars doing what they love. Despite this nearly complete movement away from amateurism, however, Coubertin's evaluation of the concept is still possibly the best yet presented. In the context of multi-million-dollar baseball players who go on strike on account of salary caps, it is possible that the sporting world may eventually return to Coubertin?s original evaluation of the idea.