Olympics and professional athletes

I had this vague impression that the Olympics were supposed to be for “amateur” athletes, but this doesn’t seem to be the case any more. In the movie Miracle, for example, much is made of the fact that the US hockey team were amateurs, and many had hopes of playing in the NHL. But in 2002 it was NHL players who got their asses whooped. And there’s the NBA “dream-team,” and so on.

So, at what point were the rules changed to allow professional players in the Olympics? Was this a decision of the IOC, or is it on a country-by-country basis?

The change went into effect before the 1992 Olympics. The Olympic commission decided that the question of pros playing would be determined by the intenational governing body of a sport. So the governing body of international basketball decided to allow pros. Some other sports do not, and they can decide what constitutes a pro (Michelle Kwan has skated for pay, but remains eligible for the Olympics because the ice skating governing body has rules that allow you to get paid and still be eligible – I believe there is a limit to how many times you can do it in a year).

It does make sense. It’s been a very long time since athletes were truly amateurs. They either had some government “job” (Jean-Claude Killy of France was a customs inspector, but I doubt he spent much time going through bags; many Russian athletes were in the army), or they were subsidized in one way or another (free college tuition in the US). You can’t compete at an Olympic level without spending so much time practicing and going to meets that any real job is difficult. Allowing pros reduced the hypocracy.

I posted this reply elsewhere, but here it is more relavant. I recently saw a PBS show on the ancient games. There was no distinction between professionals and amatuers. Rich folk could do more training, but it was possible for someone to support themselves through sport.

late 1800s sporting clubs not only disallowed (or at least discouraged) professionals, but anyone who did manual labor (you know, had muscles). That minset was present during the modern Olympic founding.


Exactly, the whole amateur distinction began as a classist move to prevent all those damn lower class poor people with their big muscles from invading a gentlemanly ol’ wrestlin’ match.

On the whole, it’s probably better that professionals are now permitted to compete.