The Last Amateur Games?

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Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France, founder of the International Olympic Committee and the generally acknowledged father of the modern Olympic Games, envisioned a field of amateur athletes for whom “the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Very sporting, but perhaps less so when one learns that de Coubertin was against female athletes’ participation, and that he came from the kind of aristocratic background that enabled leisure sporting pursuits without regard to concerns about earning a living.

Although for years the Olympics touted so-called amateurism in sport, the truth is that the Olympic playing field has seldom truly been level. Until the 1950s, Olympic equestrian competitors had to be cavalry officers; that is to say, college-educated men and Army leaders. There was no opportunity for the rank and file or for the non-military rider, no matter how talented. And do I need to point out that a cavalry officer was by definition a professional equestrian, or at least an equestrian professional?

Fans love the idea of the amateur athlete–one whose dedication to a sport is motivated purely by love of the sport, unsullied by finances and sponsorship obligations. The rationale, I suppose, is that a true amateur embodies the highest form of sportsmanship and therefore will never be tempted to stoop to cheating, doping, or other nefarious means of winning at any cost

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