I know that I shouldn’t let stuff like this get to me but during Friday’s rebroadcast of The Five on Fox ( I can see it in Edinburgh at 10 pm live and in rebroadcast at 7am the next day), they were discussing the USA basketball team putting a massive thumping of epic proportions on Nigeria. Bob Beckel launched in a tirade about the US using professional players instead of amateur/college athletes in the Olympics, saying that we only did it because one year “we got our asses beat”.
His comments about their salaries seemed to indicate that is wasn’t just that they were professionals; he seemed to have a problem with the fact that they are millionaires.
The fact is that the “amateur” ship sailed long ago. Our athletes have always been privately funded – meaning no government support – where most other countries have teams of athletes and sports systems that are funded by their governments. The former East Germany and USSR were once sport machines, turning out genetically and drug modified competitors that the US had to compete against. China now has adopted the Soviet system and has athlete factories up and running.
Recognizing this as unfair, the International Olympic Committee basically rescinded the “amateur rule” after the 1988 Games.
The amateur rule, which had plagued athletes and officials alike since the beginning of the Olympic Games, was finally overturned in 1986. It was now up to individual sports groups to determine whether or not “professionals” should be allowed to compete in the Olympics. This new rule allowed tennis to return to the Olympic Games, not having appeared since 1924 when it was eliminated because of professional/amateur difficulties.
Beckel was right about one thing, it was getting our asses beat by the Russian basketball team in 1972 that was the beginning of the end. Seeing our pimply faced 19 and 20 year old college kids going up against quasi-professionals from the Soviet military in their late 20’s and 30’s with 15 to 20 years of what was essentially professional grade experience ended that party.
Beckel seems to think that the US is the only country in the Olympics that uses professional athletes. We are not. Almost every participant in every Olympic sport derives at least some part of their livelihood from their sport. As a matter of fact, believe it or not, there is a professional badminton circuit – badminton is a huge sport in south Asia and China. Have a look at this list from Badzine – the world’s leading badminton magazine (Who knew the world needed a badminton magazine?):
Players’ Earnings Ranking – 2011
Highest Earning Player: Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia) US$267,350
Top 5 by gender
Top 5 Highest Earning Male Players
1. Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia/MS) USD 267,350
2. Lin Dan (China/MS) US$219,500
3. Zhang Nan (China/MD/XD) US$154,369
4. Chen Long (China/MS) US$143,300
5. Lee Yong Dae (Korea/MD/XD) US$142,635
Highest Earning Female Players
1. Wang Yihan (China/WS) US$265,575
2. Zhao Yunlei (China/WD/XD) US$235,128
3. Yu Yang (China/WD/XD) US$194,381
4. Wang Shixian (China/WS) US$188,700
5. Wang Xiaoli (China/WD) US$185,725
Every one of those professional badminton players are in the London Games.
Boxing is one of the last bastions of amateur status for the US but in the 2016 Rio Games, professionals will be allowed.
How about that Bob?
Beckel’s knowledge seems to be very narrow and limited to things that confirm his opinions and positions. The name Anna Wintour was mentioned in the same show and he seemed to not know who she was even though she was the inspiration for the book and movie, The Devil Wears Prada, and has just co-hosted high profile fundraisers for Obama with Sarah Jessica Parker and the hoi polloi of New York. Several times, he has seemed clueless to culture references made by other panel members and because he doesn’t know, he brushes them aside as inconsequential and unimportant – the Solyndra scandal was one of them.