We felt that Bolshevism had invaded our sanctuary.” So wrote the author AG Gardiner on visiting the Oval cricket ground in 1924. What had brought the world crashing down in south London? The Gentlemen and Players had come out together. Gentlemen in cricket were the amateurs, Players the professionals. They normally entered the field of play through different gates. Not this time.
The demarcation between amateur and professional was, for decades, one of the great ethical lines of sport. The American Jim Thorpe was stripped of two gold medals at the 1912 Olympic Games because he had once been paid $25 playing baseball. In rugby union, as late as 1981, two England internationals, Bill Beaumont and Fran Cotton, were banned for 10 years for receiving royalties from their autobiographies.
Today’s great ethical debate is not about payment but drugs. Last week, the digital, culture, media and sport select committee accused Bradley Wiggins of “crossing the ethical line” for allegedly misusing drugs allowed for medical purposes to enhance performance.