Definitions

amateur

amateur

[am-uh-choor, -cher, -ter, am-uh-tur]
amateur, in sports, one who engages in athletic competition without material recompense. Upper-class Englishmen in the 19th cent. used the concept to help define their social status, first applying the term to sportsmen who did not need to work with their hands as livelihood, later using it to describe anyone who competed without pay. By the beginning of the 20th cent., leaders of two major sports movements, the American intercollegiate athletic system and the Olympic Games (revived in 1896), had adopted amateurism, claiming it developed competitors who were morally superior to professionals. In a famous incident, Olympic officials stripped decathlete Jim Thorpe of two gold medals won at the 1912 Games because he had once accepted money to play baseball. Although almost all athletic structures not organized as professional ventures came to embrace amateurism as policy, athletes often subverted the code, forcing officials to constantly revise standards. From the outset, colleges allowed payment of educational expenses to athletes. In 1974, after Communist bloc nations had been subsidizing their athletes for two decades, the Olympics ceded to athletes the right to compensation for loss of salary during training, and shortly thereafter permitted professionals in sports whose governing bodies did not object. By the 1960s top-ranked golf and tennis amateurs had forced major tournaments to allow professional entrants. As evidenced by the return of Thorpe's medals in 1982, amateurism by the 1990s was a concept of diminished importance and one more of technical than moral distinction. The major organizations involved in the supervision of amateur athletics in the United States are the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), responsible for college and university sports, and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), responsible for most other areas of amateur competition.

See J. Lucas, The Modern Olympic Games (1980).

An amateur is generally considered a person attached to a particular pursuit, study, or science, without formal training or pay. Conversely, an expert is generally considered a person with extensive knowledge, ability, and/or training in a particular area of study, while a professional is someone who also makes a living from it. Translated from its French origin to the English "lover of", the term "amateur" reflects a voluntary motivation to work as a result of personal passion for a particular activity.

As with any construct, amateurism can be seen in both a negative and positive light. Since amateurs often do not have training, amateur work can sometimes be seen as sub-par. For example, amateur athletes in sports such as basketball or football are not regarded as having the same level of ability as professional athletes.

Alternatively, the lack of financial recompense can also be seen as a sign of commitment to an activity. For instance, until the 1970s most Olympic events required that the athletes be amateurs. Receiving payment to participate in an event disqualified an athlete from that event, as in the case of Jim Thorpe. In the Olympic games, this rule remains in place for boxing.

Amateurs make valuable contributions in the fields of computer programming through the open source movement. Amateur Dramatics is the performance of either plays or musical theater, often to high standards but lacking the budgets of the professional West End or Broadway performances. Astronomy and ornithology have also benefited from the activity of amateurs.

Pursuing amateur activities to the same standards as professionals is sometimes referred to as professional amateurism.

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