Story: Amateurism and professionalism

Page 1. The rise of amateurism

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What is amateurism?

Amateurism is a set of ideas about sport that emerged in the 19th century, especially in Britain’s public schools and universities. The central idea was that people should not receive any material reward for taking part in sport. Amateurs were expected to play fairly and with flair, always behaving respectfully towards umpires and their opponents. During the second half of the 19th century amateurism evolved from a set of ideas about how sport should be played into the dominant ideology of athletics and many team sports. In effect, it determined the conditions under which the working and middle classes were allowed to participate in sport.

What is professionalism?

Definitions of professionalism have varied considerably. In the 19th century, a professional was generally defined as someone who made their living from sport. Some stricter interpretations extended the definition to anyone who accepted money or prizes for taking part in sport. In practice the distinction between amateurism and professionalism was often blurred. Some administrators maintained that sportspeople could be reimbursed for legitimate expenses and remain amateur. Interpretations of what ‘legitimate expenses’ were differed between codes and administrators. In Britain amateurism was applied differently in different sports. Football (soccer) had separate competitions for amateurs and professionals, whereas rugby union outlawed professionalism altogether.

Amateurism emerges in New Zealand

Debates about amateurism in New Zealand were influenced by developments in Britain. In the early years of European settlement amateurism was not rigidly enforced in New Zealand. Prize money was openly advertised in early provincial anniversary celebrations. In events such as Caledonian games, prize money was still being offered in the early 1900s. By the 1850s, however, the ethics of amateurism was being discussed in newspapers. During the 1860s some people suggested that watermen (who made their living by transporting paying passengers in rowing boats) should be excluded from Christchurch’s Heathcote Regatta because their profession gave them an unfair advantage over people who worked in sedentary jobs.

How to cite this page:

Geoff Watson, 'Amateurism and professionalism - The rise of amateurism', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 June 2024)

Story by Geoff Watson, published 5 Sep 2013