How the big four sports handle professionalism

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Summary: Amateur and professional distinction abolished 1963.

Potted history: The game was fully law governed well before the concept of amateurism entered sport, but the influence of the public schools meant that the amateur-professional divide was strengthened. As a result amateurs and professionals occupied different dressing-rooms, entered the ground through different gates and ate in different areas despite playing in the same teams. Changes began to take place after the Second World War and the distinction became increasingly blurred with players securing sponsors and the like. In 1963 the MCC, then the game's governing body, decided that the distinction should be done away with and all players were referred to simply as "ers". The first one-day game followed later that year.

Earnings: In 1995 a capped player would earn, on average, about pounds 14,500; this figure will rise to about pounds 18,000 next year.

For the rest of the Test-playing nations the situation is slightly less clear-cut. In Australia in 1977 the advent of World Series was the big step towards professionalism. In the 1977 Centenary Test each Australian player received A$2,000; by 1995 that figure had risen to around A$6,500 (pounds 3,250) per Test. While the West Indies have had a fully fledged professional side for the past 20 years or so the majority of the other Test-playing nations are at a half-way house stage. While their leading players are full-time professionals reaping the financial rewards of English professional county cricket, the other Test players and club players receive very little in the way of remuneration.


Summary: The game first allowed professionals in 1885, although there remained a distinction between professionals and amateurs. This was abolished in 1974 resulting in an open game.

Potted history: Rumours of professionalism in the amateur game came to a head in January 1884 when, after a match between Preston North End and West Ham, the London club protested that Preston had included professionals in their team. To everyone's surprise Preston admitted the allegation and despite receiving a ban their move effectively precipitated the march to professionalism. Though a motion was passed saying professionalism was "evil" and would "place more power in the hands of the betting men and encourage gambling", a threatened split of teams away from the Football Association forced the authority to embrace it in 1885.

In a final effort to retain some of the "gentleman spirit" of the game, limits to professionals were imposed. They were such that in all cup matches only professionals who were qualified by birth or residence during the past two years within six miles of the headquarters of their respective clubs were permitted to take part. The rule was not expunged until four years later.

Earnings: Third Division players earn up to around pounds 25,000 a year, which is roughly a week's wages for the best Premier League players.

Rugby Union

Summary: The game is in a state of flux. New laws regarding player payments have just been announced.

Potted history: Traditionally all players were amateur, but pressure for change built up because of suggestions that some players in some countries were being paid, and because, as commitments increased with an expansion of competition up to and including the World Cup, players pressed for the ability to be compensated. The International Board confirmed at its meeting in Tokyo last week the deletion of the word "amateurism" from the regulations, thereby declaring the sport open. This means that anyone involved in the sport as a player or at any level of administration may be paid. In England the Rugby Football Union has declared a moratorium on moves towards professionalism at club level until next season. It is drawing up contracts for England players. Thus, for now, the game in England remains amateur at club level and no player is allowed to receive payment for playing at that level.

In the leading southern hemisphere nations, things are different. International players in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand have already concluded lucrative contracts with their national unions and can additionally earn money from playing at various levels of the domestic game.

Earnings: England players to earn up to pounds 40,000 a season.

Rugby League

Summary: Rugby League broke from the Rugby Football Union in 1895 to go professional.

Potted history: In the 1880s, with rugby becoming increasingly popular and important to the lives of people in northern England, players were having to take more time off work to play and train, forgoing factory shifts and wages as a result (rather as union players have in recent years had more difficulty fitting in both working and playing careers). Players affected by "broken time", as it was called, demanded compensation for the loss of shift monies but this failed to appease those in the game who, in August 1895, broke away from the RFU to become the Northern RFU, and ultimately the Rugby League in 1898.

Initially though the players were not fulltime professionals, having to retain an approved day job that paid more than they received from rugby. Gradually, though, this was phased out as the game expanded and became more lucrative. One legend of the era, Watti Davies, is reputed to have walked from South Wales to Yorkshire in search of a contract.

The Rugby League says that it is currently considering limiting payments to players in an effort to safeguard smaller clubs.

Amateur Rugby League, controlled by Barla, claims that 22,000 players are active each week.

Earnings: Second Division players average about pounds 50 a week, First Division players pounds 150 a game and Premier League superstars up to pounds 120,000 a year.