A native of
Trinidad who now lives in London, Mike Agostini was for seven years a notable
sprinter—good enough to compete all over the world, good enough to become the
track-and-field equivalent of a tennis bum, living on gifts, excessive expense
allowances and valuable prizes received in violation of the amateur rules. The
undercover payments Agostini writes about here certainly are not unique. There
are plenty of currently operating track bums, supported and encouraged by
cynical officials and ambitious promoters. What should be done about them?
Whether or not one agrees with Agostini's proposed remedy, his controversial
and bitter story sheds light on the most serious problem besetting this most
universal of sports.
I am writing this
story on my own portable typewriter. It was an illegal prize for running second
to Armin Hary, now Olympic sprint champion, at a meet in Dortmund, Germany in
1958. It was a part of my price for running there, though officially all that
the crowd saw me receive with an appreciative smile was a silver ashtray, the
cost of which was within the $35 limit on a trophy that an amateur athlete
could accept. By previous arrangement with the promoter, I swapped the ashtray
for this typewriter outside the stadium.
typewriter. Value—under $100, maybe. But enough to write finish to my amateur
status if anyone had discovered it being given to me openly.
Throw in the
hotel expenses for the German meet, the airplane fares we received and an
"appearance fee" of around $80 in cash, and you have just one athletic
cameo of "shamateurism," which, you can take it from me, is repeated a
thousandfold wherever athletes entertain the public, and to which I plead
guilty, utterly, completely and irrevocably.
Running is a
passion with me—the important part of my life. In committing myself to print I
well realize that I shall never again be allowed to compete. But in putting
down my experience, drawing attention to the rackets that are really designs
for living forced by the outmoded rules, perhaps I shall be able to draw
attention to the farcical situations caused by applying ancient rules to modern
Just as in any
other sport, it takes years to get to the top in track. Once there, you have to
work even harder to stay on the summit. Yet the amateur rules demand that the
athlete go on thrilling the thousands for nothing—except the bare return of his
So the only way
that a man can stay at the top is to look around for ways of making money that
will enable him to live. He is quickly apprised of those ways—by his fellow
athletes, by the promoter of meets seeking his appearance and by the coaches,
who are professionals and therefore often the middlemen between the promoter
and the athlete.
approaches the promoter and receives all moneys, which he hands on to the
athlete. Some coaches even get their commissions from these so-called expenses.
Should there be any query as to the athlete's status, both he and the coach
deny that they were in collusion. The AAU cannot touch the athlete, and since
the coach isn't an amateur in any case, he, too, is not affected.
In Oslo, Norway
in 1958, at the end of a Scandinavian tour, I saw a famous coach paying out
"earnings" to his stable of athletes in the foyer of a hotel. There he
was, and for all to see, stating "the amateur rules say nothing against me
making a gift to my close friends and athletes out of the goodness of my
For the squeamish
there is another way of receiving illicit payments. This is in the simple form
of betting. An athlete asks an official for $250 to compete at his meet. The
canny official refuses, on the grounds that it is illegal to pay an athlete.
Later he makes a bet with the athlete that he cannot jump over an ordinary
dining room chair. The side stake—$250. The athlete accepts the bet, jumps over
the chair and collects his winnings. This I have seen happen.