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Is professionalism ruining the Olympics?

Wednesday 18 Jul 2012 5:55 p.m.

(Reuters)

(Reuters)

By Joe Brodie

Corporate funding and the steady rise of professionalism means New Zealand can now send more athletes then ever to the Olympics Games.

The 185-man Kiwi squad is our largest to date and a far cry from the first New Zealand team of just four, sent to the 1920 Games.

But some feel the games are being ruined by opening the doors to professionalism.

Olympic purists argue that professional athletes are stealing amateur competitors’ places and undermining the true spirit of the Games.

Former New Zealand hockey representative Noel Hobson says amateur athletes are also often more eager to compete.

“The fact that we paid our own way [to the Games] gave us an increased desire to do well,” he says.

Mr Hobson says he wouldn’t want to be a professional athlete in today’s sporting environment.

“I consider myself extremely lucky to play international sport on an amateur basis because I don’t know if I could handle the professionalism of nowadays.”

He says professional athletes today are put under immense pressure both physically and mentally, with insistent interviews and the continual spotlight of the media.

Athletes also face commercial pressures never faced in the amateur era of the Games, he says.  

The modern era of the Olympic Games began in 1896 as a purely amateur tournament. It was not until the 1970s that the Games was opened up to professional athletes.

As of 1988, all Olympic sports – bar boxing and wrestling – are open to both professional and amateur competitors.

Former New Zealand paralympian Stelios Meimaris says despite the rise of professionalism, most still see the Olympics as the pinnacle of any sporting career.

“I think the Olympics will remain the high point of an athlete’s career because of the history and prestige associated with it,” he says.

For New Zealand, like most other countries, our best medal chances are from pro athletes, making professionalism a mixed blessing.

On one hand it’s increased the coverage of the Olympics and allowing for more New Zealand athletes to compete, but some see it as largely destroying the idea of the pure athlete.

Joe Brodie is a young writer-in-training for the 3 News ‘3Youth’ programme. 

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