General Articles

Fiasco on Ice

Brundage & Co. say our best amateurs are tainted. So Canada, home of hockey, has to send a scratch team to the Olympics

W. G. HARDY February 1 1948
General Articles

Fiasco on Ice

Brundage & Co. say our best amateurs are tainted. So Canada, home of hockey, has to send a scratch team to the Olympics

W. G. HARDY February 1 1948

Fiasco on Ice

Brundage & Co. say our best amateurs are tainted. So Canada, home of hockey, has to send a scratch team to the Olympics


CANADIANS have always thought of their hockey teams in the same way they think of the Rockies—as something superlative, unassailable and fine talking points when boasting mildly in front of visitors. So they are alternately annoyed and puzzled when they hear we are not sending our best amateur team to the Olympic Games this month.

It’s something like entering the Touchwood Hills in an international competition to select the most imposing mountains in the world.

As originators of the game Canadians had long worn their hockey crown with easy insouciance. They felt it slipping when the British team won the Olympic lux'key title at the last games in 1936. Since the war many good teams have shown on European rinks and some observers say the Czechs are the men to beat.

The U. S. Olympic team recently beat the expert University of Toronto team in Boston by a scon* of 7-4. Hockey is improving, competition is tougher than it ever was before.

And Canada is sending an RCAF team which has been fortified with some reserves since it was inauspiciously unveiled with a 7-0 defeat at the hands of the McGill University team. But the shored-up team is still not the best we could collect from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association roster.

The team will prôbably have a rough time at St. Moritz defending Canada’s hockey honor. And there is a very good chance it will get badly beaten.

Why isn’t Canada sending a strong entry?

The answer lies in the definition of amateurism laid down by the International Olympic Committee. If you want an idea of how rigid the I.O.C. definition is, think back to last May when Barbara Ann Scott, in order to retain her status as an amateur for Olympic competition, was compelled

to give up an automobile which her fellow citizens in Ottawa had given to her in good faith and, according to press reports, after consultation with Canadian amateur officials.

Avery Brundage, chairman of the U. S. Olympic Committee and vice-president of the I. O. C., said that Miss Scott had impaired her Olympic amateur status by accepting the car. The Canadian Olympic Committee met and bowed its knee. Miss Scott was advised to return the car.

At a June meeting in Stockholm an I. O. C. committee on amateurism, headed by Mr. Brundage, framed what is now the official definition of an amateur for all Olympic competition. It says (the italics are mine):

“An amateur is one whose connection with sport is and always has been solely for pleasure and for the physical, mental and social benefits he derives therefrom and to whom sport is nothing more than recreation without material gain of any hind, direct or indirect.”

Each competitor in the 1948 Olympics will sign a declaration embodying this definition.

If you study this definition you will see that if you are a professional in one sport you have thereby so besmirched yourself that you cannot be an Olympic competitor in any other sport in which you are not a professional. By the I. O. C.’s definition, for instance, Bill Ezinicki, of Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club, ought not to have been allowed to compete in the Canadian Amateur Golf Tournament.

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The definition also means that if you have ever accepted so much as a 50cent piece or a baseball mitt as a prize in any sport at any time, you are not an amateur from the I. O. C. point of view. Furthermore, a hockey player who has received skates or other hockey equipment from his club, unless these skates and equipment remain the property of the club, has thereby forfeited his Olympic amateur status.

It is true that an Olympic competitor may receive reimbursement for his actual travelling expenses, plus expenses for board and lodging. He cannot, however, receive reimbursement for wages lost during his absence at competitions, although when “he is the sole support of his family ... as a very special exception, after individual enquiry,” an indemnity may be paid “direct to his employer.” But this is

not to be “regarded as reimbursement for lost salary.”

The Canadian Amateur Hockey Association does not agree with the Olympic definition of an amateur. The CAHA thinks the I. O. C. definition is outdated and undemocratic. Because of its belief in a more liberal definition of amateurism, the CAHA severed its connection with the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada in 1936.

The CAHA argues that a definition which prevents athletes from receiving reimbursement for wages lost while playing a sport is undemocratic because it limits amateur competition in any highly organized team sport, such as hockey, to rich men or their sons.

The CAHA now reinstates professionals freely. It permits tryouts of amateurs by professional clubs. In certain divisions, particularly in Senior and Junior A leagues where the receipts warrant it, players may receive their education, hockey jobs or, in some cases, straight salaries, in return for

their hockey. The CAHA believes it has stripped some of the pretense from the game.

This does not mean, however, that all CAHA players get paid. Of the 48,755 players registered with the CAHA in the season of 1946-47, only alwiut five per cent of the top-ranking players received compensation. The rest can be classified as simon-pures.

“Why Send a Team?”

The CAHA definifion of an amateur hockey player is, “one who either has not engaged or is not engaged in organized professional hockey.” The CAHA says an amateur hockey player is one whose chief means of livelihood does not come from hockey.

The answer to the question: “How come that in Olympic ice hockey Canada will not be represented by the liest team the CAHA can ice but by a team selected by the RCAF?” is now obvious. Canada’s top-ranking CAHA hockey players cannot qualify under the Olympic definition of an amateur, and the CAHA will not condone players perjuring themselves.

You may ask “Why send a team at all?” The answer is involved.

Olympic hockey teams must be certified by the International Ice Hockey Federation, which co-ordinates all organized hockey in the world except the professional leagues of North America. The CAHA is a member of this body. At its September meeting in Zurich the international federation, with Canada alone dissenting, adopted for Olympic competition the definition of an amateur which the Brundage committee had framed.

On the other hand, the federation did vote that the clubs of its members would play in the Olympics only against North American teams which bad been okayed by the CAHA and its U. S. counterpart, the Amateur Hockey Association. At war’s end, the A. H. A. replaced the Amateur Athletic Union as U. S. member of the federation, because the A. H. A. was the body in control of nonprofessional hockey in tliat country and was promoting the game among American boys.

But Mr. Brundage was annoyed. At the moment of writing, he is demanding that his Amateur Athletic

Union pick the U. S. hockey team as it once did and, according to press reports, is threatening tliat if this is not done he will withdraw the whole U. S. winter team. If he and the I. I. H. F. stick to their guns, there may be no Olympic hockey.

The decision of the International Ice Hockey Federation to adopt the I. O. C. definition of amateurism put the CAHA executive on the spot. It had to pick a club to conform to that rigid definition or refuse to send one at all.

The general feeling of the CAHA executive was that Canadians thought a club ought to be sent. So, when the RCAF offered to pick a club the CAHA accepted, feeling not even Mr. Brundage could object. The CAHA is paying the cost but is not yielding its own definition of an amateur in North American competition.

A Sensible Cede

What should the basis of Olympic competition be? It could be argued, for instance, that the idea of the games is to pit the best athletes of each country against each other, regardless of whether they are amateurs or professionals.

But tradition is against allowing professionals to compete and, on the whole, it seems a wise tradition. If amateurism is to be the criterion, then the battle between the rigid and the liberal definition of an amateur becomes important.

As one of those who supported the severing of the affiliation of the CAHA with the A. A. U., the I. O. C. definition seems to me absurd. I wonder if it is founded on a misconception of the original Olympic Games of ancient Greece.

At those games the conditions were that the competitor should be a Greek, should be under no political or moral disqualification and should have undergone ten months’ training Nothing was said about amateurism.

The prize was a crown of wild olives. But—and here is the catch—the winner was not faced by any committeeroom regulations against cashing in on his victory. Presents were showered on him, including gifts of gold and silver, and at Athens he was given 500

drachmas and free living for the rest of his life.

In ancient Greece Barbara Ann Scott would not have had to give back the equivalent of her motorcar.

If the International Olympic Committee believes that by insisting that its Olympic competitors be free from any consideration of “material gain, diiect or indirect,” it is following the practice of the ancient Olympics it needs to read the classics again.

In any case, what suited ancient Greece does not necessarily fit the world today. To say that a professional in one sport must be regarded as a nonamateur in all others seems an absurd relic of a class distinction which, in earlier days, differentiated between “gentlemen” who were rich enough to be amateurs and those who had to earn a living.

It also seems democratic that no one should be barred from Olympic competitions because the athlete cannot be reimbursed for wages lost while away.

In the 1936 Olympics the fact that this payment for “broken time” could not be allowed forced the CAHA to replace its Allan Cup winners of the 1936 season, the Halifax Wolverines, with a composite team made up of players from Port Arthur Bearcats and the Montreal Royals.

There are all kinds of people who have hobbies from which they make money. This is usually regarded not as a slur but as commendable enterprise.

Because, for example, a professor occasionally writes something for which he gets a few dollars, he is not a professional writer instead of a professor.

The basis for a sensible and modem definition of amateurism, as opposed to the rigid one of the I. O. C., might be that an amateur in sport is “one to whom the sport concerned is not his sole or chief means of livelihood.” The accompanying regulations would then provide for payment for “broken time.”

Under such a definition the CAHA could have iced a team really representative of Canadian hockey. As it is the RCAF club, though probably as good as any that can be sent under the present Olympic definition of an amateur, will, in all likelihood, have a real struggle ahead of it. ★