'Shamateurism' myth presents false image of champions

By Zheng Ruolin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, August 13, 2012
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France's Judoka Teddy Riner was enthusiastically hailed as a hero by the crowd when he broke Japan's monopoly in the men's 100 + kilogram class to win the heavyweight title at the London Olympics.

France's Judoka Teddy Riner strikes gold in 2012 Olympic heavyweight judo. [File Photo]

Speaking after he arrived back from the Games at Paris' Gare du Nord Station, the five-time world champion said: "As an amateur player, I am proud of the gold medal win."

However, Riner's description of himself as an amateur is at odds with the reality of most Western athletes' circumstances. Also, this description of him carried in some Western media seems somewhat contradictory when the same media have accused the Chinese government of training "machines" for the purpose of winning Olympic gold medals at all costs.

The term "amateur" presents the illusion that an amateur athlete holds either a regular job, or is a student, and trains in his or her spare time, unpaid, in pursuit of gold medals.

Many therefore conclude that most Western gold medalists are amateurs as a result of the popularization of public sports, which is far from the reality in France.

Riner, for instance, started his judo training at a local sports club at the age of 5, qualified for formal competitions at 13, was selected for the French national team at 15 and won his first world title at 18.

Nicknamed "Teddy Bear," the 23-year-old judoka has never taken paid employment and even managed to snag a three-year contract last summer with the French Levallois Judo Club, which offered him an annual salary of €180,000 (US$221,049).

In addition, he received €35,000 in prize money for each of his five previous world titles (as well as €15,000 for winning the European title and €50,000 for winning Olympic gold) from the National Judo Association. He racked up a further €500,000 from four commercial sponsorship deals.

When a club's top athletes become eligible for competitions, it will receive huge subsidies from both central and local governments. The parent club of Riner's judo division, home to a large number of the country's top athletes, received half of its funds from the state and local government subsidies. Even the club's training facility, cars and computers are provided by the local government.

When global tournaments approach, the athletes who have previously been coached by their club will become part of the national team and all expenses will be met by the government.

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