H. H. ROXBOROUGH February 1 1934


H. H. ROXBOROUGH February 1 1934



IN MID-NOVEMBER in Winnipeg, national leaders in amateur sport held their annual parliament. The event itself was not unusual, for the walls of the best-known convention assemblies in Canada during forty-six years have echoed to the sonorous sentiments of simon-pure evangelists as they expounded the doctrine that “the game, not the reward, is the thing worth while.” For nearly half a century these sport controllers have endeavored to protect the white lambs of amateurism from the big bad wolves of professionalism.

Has this generous expenditure of time, money and effort produced correspondingly satisfactory results? If the measure of success is dependent upon the increasing respect for amateur ideals, then it is doubtful if the many decades of labor have produced the desired result, for the year 1933 evidenced a growing disregard for the principles of amateurism.

You will recall the hockey condition. The senior national title was won by Moncton and the team was so loaded with imports that only two native sons could find even “lower berths.” A club representing Newmarket won the junior Canadian championship, and the players were so loosely attached to “home-town” associations that every regular player save one has since sought a transfer to play for other communities. The Marlboro Hockey Team was freely discussed in a Toronto lawsuit and evidence was submitted that individuals shared the profits, that one year’s surplus was “invested” in an unsympathetic racehorse, and the judge was prompted ironically to remind one witness that the correct pronunciation was not amateur but “shamateur.” Baseball, too, was not beyond reproach. Allegations that the Ottawa Valley League contained players who were receiving money for their diamond ability inspired the spirited reply that the remainder of Ontario, baseballicallyspeaking, would be rendering a better service to amateur sport if it would forget the dirt on its neighbor’s steps and concentrate upon cleaning its own.

Similarly with rugby. The introduction of the forward pass into the Canadian game has given the most practical inspiration to immigration since the railways ceased shelling out quarter-sections. For instance, the Toronto Argonauts imported two United States players and one coach. Montreal proved irresistible to three hustling Yanks, while Ottawa interests not only accepted the coach who had been ejected as a player in 1932 because of proved professionalism in big-league baseball, but they also induced five other American university footballers to leave home and country and settle in the capital city—all because they wanted to study French or “sumpin.” The West, too, became wholesale importers and three more United States ex-student stars found it worth while to join the Winnipeg senior rugby twelve.

Apart altogether from specific instances, there has been an increasing general indifference toward amateurism. Not so very long ago the youngsters bought their own skates, sticks, bats or balls; they considered it a privilege to be allowed to play on a team; they even spared a dime to pay the referee or umpire, and many mothers bought the cloth and made the lads’ uniforms. Today the boys not only expect to have everything provided but they also prefer even to retain the equipment when the season ends.

There was also a period when the more prominent clubs were officered by prominent citizens eager to be associated with sport for its sociability and healthfulness. Today, most clubs engaged in revenue-producing games are promoted by small groups of men primarily interested in the profits.

Notwithstanding the sacrifices and toil of many leaders who have unselfishly endeavored to maintain untainted amateurism, the fact remains that in 1933 Canada’s play stream was so polluted that a United Church Conference called upon its members “to seek to arouse the public conscience to the demoralizing effects of the dishonesty underlying much of the amateur sport of the country at the present time.”

Promoters Make Money

V\7HO CAUSED THIS diminishing respect for amaW teurism? It didn't just happen, for it is the natural result of big gates, private promotions, indefinite laws, discord among amateur leaders, over-organization and the indifference of athletes and fans.

“Once upon a time” the ball diamond, the lacrosse field or the hockey rink was the centre of community life; the players were native sons, known to all by their nicknames; no admissions were charged and leading citizens generously balanced the budgets. Under those conditions rivalry was healthy, local pride was genuine and everyone had a good word for games.

During the past few years, however, Canadian sport has become so dollar-minded that the only senior clubs retaining the hat-passing collection system are those which find it impossible to get into enclosures. So keen is the demand for fences, turnstiles, arenas, stadiums, publicity and big gates that it is not impossible for a hockey team to have a surplus of $7,000, a rugby team to accumulate receipts of $20,0(X), and one national governing body to roll up a surplus in excess of $50,000.

Because of this money-grabbing mania, amateur associations, in most sports, have embraced the play-off system. Here is how the Ontario Hockey Association accepted this public-pay arrangement. Last year the O. H. A. had eight senior teams; these clubs played their usual home and home games, but the league leader was not the provincial champion. No, siree -the executive didn’t accept such a foolish notion. Instead, they just tossed the four leading teams into another series. The first played the third, the second played the fourth and then the two winners played a couple more games to locate definitely the champion. One softball league arranged to have the first ánd second teams play a final series wherein the first club to win three games was the champion, and they actually played nine profitable matches before a winner was declared.

Not only do most sports executives arrange these extra games before title holders are decided, but it is also becoming apparent that, while professional teams end the play-offs as quickly as possible, the amateur clubs generally are so “evenly matched" that the championship is in doubt until the fifth or the seventh game is concluded. Smart idea? Perhaps. Moneymaker? Sure. But can amateur leaders inspire respect for amateur ideals when they not only permit but actually encourage, arrange, and profit from a scheme whose sole purpose is to grab the last loose dollar without regard for whether or not the team winning the most games is ultimately the s|»rt champion?

This money emphasis, endorsed by nearly all amateur organizations, has attracted to Canada’s play life the sport chiseller, the person whose primary interest in the game is how much can I make out of it? Indeed, so profitable have some clubs become that it is not uncommon for individuals to buy themselves into office and to sell their interests or shares when they desire to retire.

So, because amateur associations permit play-offs, because these play-offs make money, because this money attracts promoters, it then becomes only natural for these sport brokers to pay cash to secure a team so good that it will get into the “pay-off” series.

Consequently, the rush to enclosures, the preference for extra games, the passing of organized clubs, the greed of promoters, all conspire to crush principles from amateur sport.

But those few sport leaders who condemn play-offs have themselves unwittingly contributed to player hypocrisy by

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their laxity in defining [

and interpreting the

amateur code, for the

laws are so indefinite

that the simon-pure

objective is frequently

defeated, while still keeping within the law.

Defeating the Amateur Laws

TpOR EXAMPLE, the amateur law s permit the payment of honorariums to persons contributing executive services. In the first place, this is quite illogical because it permits a sportsman who sits behind a desk to be rewarded with an unrestricted number of dollars and still maintain his amateur status; while the sportsman who risks limbs or life on a playing field and who really earns the money to pay the officer’s honorarium is a sport outcast if he is proved guilty of accepting even a trifling amount for his athletic efforts. The same inconsistent law also encourages hypocrisy by making it possible for a star player to become the club secretary and, in that position, to accept a threefigured cheque, not as a salary of course but just as an honorarium such as the lawmakers themselves may receive.

Moreover, amateur laws do not assert that a loan is a contribution. Consequently a needy player may borrow a fewhundred dollars from his wealthy club and respond by giving his note and even paying annual interest. Through the years the note is renewed, but when the player retires the club writes off the loan as a bad debt. This possibility is really an actuality. An athlete who represented Canada in Olympic competition owed $1,600 to a United States university for his education, and, while the debt was uncollectible, the bookkeeping made the transaction financial rather than sporting.

Another weakness in amateur laws is the absence of any control over coaches and trainers, for a club is not restricted in its selection of a tutor nor in the amount of money to be paid such an officer. Neither does a player lose his status as an amateur when he wins money in games of poker, pool, crap, bowling or horseshoes. Consequently, the well-paid coach and the deserving player might indulge in such worthy pastimes; the coach could lose any desired number of dollars to the player, and the latter could still sign the declaration that he had not received money for services as an athlete in those six>rts controlled by amateur unions.

The give-a-man-a-job appeal also produces its problems. For instance, an advertising agency might receive a profitable contract from a club or an officer and, not because of that business relationship but just as a coincidence, may employ players signed by the client’s club and might also pay very high salaries. But even if the employers assert that the athletes are worth all they are getting, who can say that the position is not simply a smart plan to pay players for skill on ice or field, even though the salaries may be artfully hidden in the monthly statement to the sporting magnates?

Furthermore, the present amateur system makes it easy for a club to give free tickets to players who sell them to friends for cash. A team may buy and present valuable prizes to athletes, and the merchant who sold the rewards may buy them back from the player; or a club might gamble funds in stocks or horse races and divide the spoils, if any, among the club members. And still the officers of amateur organizations might never discover the lawbreakers.

Not only are present amateur laws easily broken by those who choose to break them, but the “amateur house’’ is so divided against itself that it does not command the esteem of the public or the loyalty of the players. In the Winnipeg attack upon the relationship between amateurs and professionals, Maritime Provinces Branch resolved that Canadian laws should be shaped in the English mold. The Ottawa Valley Branch called upon the Canadian Union to cancel the affiliations of those bodies which were

simply money-making enterprises; Ontario staunchly affirmed its faith in fundamental “simón-pureism,’’ while Alberta and Saskatchewan representatives stood right up and battled for the removal of many bars in the fence now separating the amateurs and professionals. Not only in the national organization but in almost every club, league or provincial association, every shade of amateur belief is expounded.

Scandal Means Cate Receipts

TT IS THEREFORE only natural to ask: -*• Can amateurism thrive in such an atmosphere of doubt? Can we expect players to give three cheers for an ideal which is publicly denounced by those who are primarily elected to spread the belief? Can we hope to arouse public admiration for a play principle when there is so much uncertainty in the minds of those leaders who should be its staunchest supporters?

Here is the answer: Sports v'riters, inspired by the desire for sensational news rather than the urge for play purification, headline the tidings that sport is rotten, that supposed amateurs are paid, that clubs are flouting laws, that hypocrisy is rampant.

What happens? Does the public say “unclean?” Do double-dealing clubs become ostracized? Do the fans hiss the masquerading players? Not much. The newspa[>er panning, instead of arousing public horror, actually proves to be exceptionally good publicity, and the most successful financial season is the one in which the most sport scandal is uncovered. Apparently, the paying fans don’t give tw'o hoots about the principles enunciated by the Amateur Athletic Union!

Quite similar is the attitude of the players. The possibility of suspension or expulsion may prevent an athlete from breaking amateur laws, but it is the fear of punishment rather than personal choice that keeps him simon-pure. If the solution of the amateur and professional problem was decided solely by the participants, the only cause for separation would be that a player who didn’t honestly try to win would be chucked out of sport.

Not only has the ideal of amateurism been sacrificed upon the altar of silver and gold, but the over-organization in Canadian amateur sport, instead of promoting more play, has actually lessened the opportunity to recreate. How ?

In nearly every sport the organization chart reveals the individual player, the club, the league; the towm or city group of leagues; the provincial association, and often the national association. Now the usual season is only three or four months in duration, but in order that the ultimate national champion may be declared, many clubs must stop playing many weeks before climatic conditions necessitate. For instance, in Ontario, three baseball clubs in four are eliminated in early August because the two best teams in the province must have their final game in late September; the schedules of many hockey leagues end in mid-February because the national playdowms will require about six weeks longer. Thus, too much organization and too much emphasis on a national championship greatly reduce the hours devoted to play.

Contrast this condition with that in United States college football. Without any leagues, without any plan to leam which team is champion, the colleges map out a schedule of games, play as many other colleges as they desire, and close the season only when the weather becomes too wintry. No medals are given to a champion football team of the United States, but the public enthusiasm is extreme, the gates are enormous, and the opportunity to play is prolonged.

.So if amateur sport suffers from overorganization. indefinite laws, discordant leader________ship and private profiteering,one may well ask, what can be done about it?

A professional hockey player tells me that the only w-ay to prevent sport hypocrisy is to abolish amateurism completely and stop asking questions. An old-time rugby star who is nowT a prominent lawyer, prompted by the thought that money-making is the root of all amateur problems, suggests that the ideal remedy would be a law' making it illegal to charge more than ten cents admission to any amateur game. A sports editor, believing the promoter to be the destroyer of amateurism, would debar from all enclosures where amateur sport is played, any individual taking profits from amateur clubs.

Amid such varieties of opinion no one person has the sole cure for “shamateurism,” but it is becoming increasingly evident that the greatest menace to pure amateurism is the Canadian Amateur Athletic Union itself.

But surely an association formed for the dominant purpose of keeping sport free from professionalism is not the readiest to defeat its own objective? Well, the writer is one who believes that claim to be true.

Just recall the inconsistency at the recent Winnipeg meeting. The delegates rejected a motion to permit professionals in one sport to play with or against amateurs in another; they also refused to extend the privilege of an amateur club playing against a professional team for charitable purposes, and these two decisions suggested a desire to promote strict amateurism.

But notwithstanding such conclusions, the delegates later reversed these policies and agreed to reinstate youthful professionals after one year’s absence and mature professionals after three years inactivity. They also devised a legal path whereby an amateur may have a trial with professional clubs without losing his amateur status. Then the amateur moguls climbed to the peak of self-contradiction when, in order that amateur soccer players might play with and against professionals, they ridiculously concluded that football should not be subjected to the same restrictions applying to rugby, baseball, lacrosse, basketball or hockey, but would henceforth be associated with bowling and horseshoes.

Not only is the Amateur Athletic Union extravagantly inconsistent, but some of the most prominent leaders fling defiant challenges at their own institution. For instance, w'hen President Crocker and Secretary Leslie condemned a policy of the Canadian Hockey Association, Mr. W. Fry, the vicepresident of the amateur union and probably its next president, gets right up in meeting and says the hockey unit will continue to steer its own course regardless of what the A. A. U. of C. may think or do. Then Mr. P. J. Mulqueen, chairman of the Canadian Olympic Committee, follow's Fry to bat and records his opinion that, if the national amateur delegates chose to fight the federal hockey forces, the former will become second best.

When men occupying positions of prominence in amateur sporting fraternities not only support resolutions contrary to the spirit of amateurism but also publicly chide the association in which they hold office, then how can anyone reasonably expect the humbler executives, the players or the public to show any enthusiasm for, or give any support to, amateur ideals?

Amateur sport will not be purged of its hypocrisy, will not have even a fighting chance for its future existence until all its leaders, by word and action, indicate a more wholesome respect for the principles upon w'hich the Amateur Athletic Union is founded. Meanwhile, unless some of these barnacles are removed, the prophecy that the amateur ship will be completely wrecked within three years seems likely to become a vivid reality.