Dropping the Amateur: The International Association of Athletics Federations and the Turn Toward Professionalism

in Sport History Review
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  • 1 University of Stirling
  • | 2 Aarhus University
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When the International Association of Amateur Athletics (IAAF) changed its name to International Association of Athletics Federations in 2001, it was more than an acknowledgment of the organization’s acceptance of professional athletes. Rather, this change symbolized a shift in thinking about the nature of athletics, what athletics competitions represented, and the commercialization of the sport that had been decades in the making. This article will consider the IAAF’s pursuit to maintain control over global athletics through its transition from an amateur sport federation to a professional sport governing body. Drawing on official documents and personal archives of IAAF officials, the authors trace the internal views and debates, beginning with the IAAF’s fight to maintain amateurism against collective pushback over issues of athlete pay, to the full acceptance of professionalism. The main focus of this article lies in the transition period in the 1980s and 1990s. The authors show how dropping the amateur from the name reflected not only the new embrace of professional athletes, but also the organizational turn away from amateur athletics. The authors will identify the processes that finally forced the breakdown of amateurism and ushered in a new era of professional athletics.

Henning is with the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, University of Stirling, Stirling, Scotland, United Kingdom. Krieger is with the Department of Public Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.

Address author correspondence to April Henning at April.henning@stir.ac.uk.