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'Amateur' a 4-letter word when referring to Olympic athletes

The Rio Olympics are a mere eight months away and as Canada prepares to meet and embrace a new crop of Canadian Olympians, Olympic medallist Deidra Dionne asks a small favour: Drop the word, "Amateur."

Time to flip the script

There's nothing amateur about Canada's best athletes. (The Canadian Press)

The Rio Olympic Games are a mere eight months away and as Canada prepares to meet and embrace a new crop of Canadian Olympians, I ask a small favour: 

Please stop referring to our Olympians as "amateur" athletes and their sports as "amateur" sport. They are athletes; they compete in sport. No distinction needed.

The term "amateur athlete" is both inaccurate and antiquated. It stems from earlier generations of athletes who had to forgo compensation to remain eligible to represent their country in the Olympic Games. The sport funding model radically changed when in the 1984 Los Angeles Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) allowed professional football (soccer) and tennis players to compete in the Olympics. This seismic shift in policy changed the landscape of Olympic athlete compensation, forever blurring the lines between amateur sport and professional sport. 

With that small change, the concept of amateurism began to erode and within a generation, was completely obsolete when NBA players participated in the 1992 Barcelona Games and NHL players participated in the 1998 Nagano Games.

Today, an athlete training to compete at the Olympic Games is not an amateur athlete and their sport is not amateur sport. They are athletes competing in sport. They are compensated. The compensation may not be as lucrative, structured or as guaranteed as some of the traditional North American sports (although last I checked, NFL contracts aren't guaranteed either) but they are compensated.

Olympic athletes are pros

Athletes competing in the Olympics are funded through various channels. Most receive a small stipend from the federal government, some receive prize money for international results, others are paid to show up at competitions and some have one or multiple sponsors. Athletes can even make money speaking or appearing at functions. Moreover, they make money for winning world championship medals and Olympic medals. 

Most won't make millions and the majority will need a career after their sport career but labelling them as amateur is simply inaccurate. It begs the question, why do we still use the label of amateur athlete and amateur sport? Are we holding onto the term nostalgically? Does it stem from the IOC's desire to shape Olympic sport as pure? Perhaps somehow the illusion of our athletes not being compensated for their plight feeds an idealist vision the IOC wants us to associate with the Olympic rings. 

But let's be real. Our Olympic athletes make money. They also work hard, train full-time and most spend months on the road away from loved ones. They wear our maple leaf internationally and represent our Canadian ideals around the globe. They are some of our best role models. Making money doesn't change who they are as people nor does it change how inspirational they are. So let's all be honest and drop amateur from the description of our Canadian Olympic athletes and their sports. 

They are athletes. They compete in sport. No distinctions needed.

About the Author

Deidra Dionne

Deidra Dionne is Director, Business Affairs at Rogers Media. Her unique outlook on the business of sport stems from her experience as a two-time Olympian and Olympic medallist in freestyle skiing aerials, and from her education and experience as a lawyer in the sport and entertainment industry.

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