Professional sports are sports in which the participants receive payment for playing, as opposed to amateur athlete s. Professionalism has increasingly come to the fore through a combination of developments: mass media and increased leisure have brought larger audiences, so that sports organisations or teams can command large incomes. As a result, more sportspeople can afford to make sport their primary career, and sportspeople often attain superstar, celebrity status. This can have the major advantages of increasing the level of proficiency, and of boosting the popularity of certain sports. It can also operate to exclude the part-time or amateur participant, and thus to have a limiting influence on a sport.
The increase of professionalism, as well as attempts to resist the spread of professionalism, have caused major problems for some sports.
Professionalism has another influence through organisations and fans seeing it as an attack on the central ethos of sport, i.e. the ethos of competition performed for its own sake and for pure enjoyment, rather than as a means of earning a living. Consequently, many organisations and commentators have reactively resisted the growth of professionalism, and some people see this as having impeded the development of sport. For example, rugby union had a reputation for many years as a part-time sport engaged in by amateurs, and English cricket has allegedly suffered in quality because of a non-professional approach.
Under feudal conditions sport and military training often coalesced. Knights practised jousting as training for the heavy cavalry charge, archers perfected their skills in preparation for battle. As mercenary armies supplanted the feudal levy, so too the practice of surviving militaristic sports may sometimes have become associated with payment.
The sports of cock-fighting, boxing and wrestling often took place in festive contexts where betting could take place. The pressures of potential loss of bets encouraged the emergence of champions and their incentivisation -- often with money.
The 19th-century English class system and professional players
The English public school system (EPS) of the second half of the 19th century had a major influence on many sports. The schools contributed to the rules and influenced the governing bodies of those sports out of all proportion to their size. The public schools had a deep involvement in the development many team sports including all British codes of football as well as cricket and hockey. Moreover, the ethos of English public schools greatly influenced Pierre de Coubertin. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) invited a representative of the Headmasters' Conference (HC, the association of headmasters of the English public schools) to attend their early meetings. The HC chose Robert Laffan as their representative to the IOC.
The EPS subscribed to the Ancient Greek belief that sport formed an important part of education, an attitude summed up in the saying: "a healthy body leads to a healthy mind". In this ethos, taking part has more importance than winning, because society expected gentlemen to become all-rounders and not the best at everything. Class prejudice against "trade" reinforced this attitude. The house of a typical EPS boy would have a tradesman's entrance, because tradesmen did not rank as the social equals of gentlemen.
Within this class view it follows that if a person played a sport as a paid "professional", that would make the person a member of a trade. How could a club function when expectations demanded that some of the players enter through a side entrance? How would the social side of the club flourish if some of the members did not rank as gentlemen? How could a club of gentlemen which played a club of professionals possibly entertain their social inferiors?
Another prejudice which existed amongst late Victorian and Edwardian gentlemen held that the all-round abilities of British gentlemen allegedly meant that, if they put their minds to something, they would perform better than anyone else. This included the other British classes. The British attempts under Scott to reach the South Pole illustrate this prejudice. In the Scott expeditions, gentlemen refused to take the instructions of Canadian dog-handlers seriously, or to learn from Scandinavians how to use cross-country skis properly. To compensate for their failures to master dog and ski they persuaded themselves (and their contemporaries) that walking and to man-hauling sledges to the South Pole made the process more of an achievement. (Echoes of this attitude still persist in Britain: for example Royal Marine officers must do better than "other ranks" on the commando course to qualify for a Green beret.) If professional teams were to beat gentlemen amateur teams consistently, that might burst the illusion of social superiority, and that could lead to social instability, something not in the perceived interests of the British upper classes of the time.
See also: World Series Cricket
In 1893, Yorkshire rugby football clubs complained that southern (gentlemen) clubs enjoyed over-representation on the RFU Committee and that committee meetings took place in London at times which made it difficult for northern members to attend. By implication they argued that this affected the RFU's decisions on the issue of "broken time" payments to the detriment of northern clubs who at the time made up the majority of English rugby clubs. ("Broken time" payments involved a proposal put forward by Yorkshire clubs that players receive a payment of six shillings when they missed work due to match commitments.) When the RFU voted down "broken time" payments, widespread suspensions of northern clubs and players began.
On August 29, 1895 representatives of the northern clubs met in the George Hotel, Huddersfield to form the "Northern Rugby Football Union" (usually termed Northern Union or NU), a professional body which played an "open" code of rugby which became known as Rugby League. The dispute about payment also affected soccer and cricket at the time. Each game had to work out a compromise; Rugby proved the least successful at doing this. Over a century would elapse before Rugby Union became an "open" code and would allow players who had played a game of Rugby League (even at an amateur level) to play in a Union game.