THE HEART OF THE MATTER
The issue could scarcely be more clearly drawn. The amateur ideal of sportsmanship, fair play and the pursuit of excellence for its own sake is both a noble and a sound one. Whether this ideal depends for its existence on the amateur rules quoted above is quite another question.
Brundage and his supporters believe with religious fervor that it does. "If we water down the rules now," one of his staunchest backers told me, "the Games will be destroyed within eight years."
But every religion has found it necessary to adapt its dogma to changing conditions. In no period of time, furthermore, has the world changed, and so fast, as in the last two generations. Gone is the handful of white-flanneled gentlemen amateurs batting balls around their few private courts, cricket grounds and golf links. In its stead an entirely new generation, dressed in shorts and numbering millions from every social level, is batting and kicking balls around innumerable public courts and playing fields throughout the world. Air travel has made international competitions routine, and a vastly improved communications system keeps the sports-conscious public of all nations informed of the results.
This, in turn, has brought about another change. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Games, hoped that friendship on the sports field would lead to a decrease in international antagonisms. But rampant universal nationalism has increased international rivalry to the point of making the will to win in sports a national policy. Though the Olympic authorities have constantly decried the trend, the Games have become a focus of international rivalry as unofficial scorers have pitted one nation against another. Scarcely a single country does not in one form or another give financial assistance to its team in the Olympics to uphold its national prestige.
Commercialism has been an even greater ill than nationalism, especially in the United States. When shrewd businessmen discovered in the '20s the money-making possibilities of spectator sports, they exploited them ruthlessly. To attract large audiences they went after the famous athletes in and out of the colleges, and their cold cash, offered above or under the table, dampened many an amateur spirit.
VOICES FROM THE PAST
The guardians of amateurism reacted in various ways in different sports. A large number, somehow confusing the taking of money for playing with the extinct prejudice against taking money for a trade, countered with every sort of rule to prevent athletes from accepting rewards. Others, living in the dead past when professionals used the back door and ate, if at all, at the kitchen table, even forbade amateurs to compete with professionals at tournaments lest somehow they become contaminated.
College athletics were hit by commercialism in another form. Primarily to attract publicity and larger student bodies, secondly to enhance their prestige with their alumni and donors, and finally as a means of financing the costs of running their institutions, university authorities found the gate receipts of winning teams irresistible. To recruit such teams, athletic scholarships and special dispensations, such as leniency in academic requirements, became the rule in many colleges, to the indignation of the guardians of amateurism.
When Americans point to the state amateurs of Russia and accuse the IOC of using one standard to judge the East and another to judge the West, Brundage is apt to retort, with considerable support from most European athletes and sports officials, that American criticism of Soviet athletics "sounds like sour grapes." In Europe, the indignation of sports officials against American college sports, especially the practice of recruiting foreign athletes, is considerably more vociferous than any opposition to athletic practices behind the Iron Curtain.