Take the “amateurism” regulations out of student sports - The collapse of amateurism in Japanese and US student sports
学生スポーツにおける「アマチュアリズム」規制を排除せよ。 〜日米学生スポーツにおけるアマチュアリズムの崩壊〜 Published 28 April 2015 By: Takuya Yamazaki
Introduction – the Contemporary Significance of the Collapse of Amateurism in Student Sports
In America the collapse of amateurism has suddenly gathered apace with the so-called O’Bannon case (O'Bannon v. NCAA (N.D. Cal. Aug. 8, 2014) and the trend towards unionisation in student sports. Originally, education was the pretext for American college sports controlled by the NCAA (The National Collegiate Athletic Association). However, as US college sport has become increasingly popular and American college sports is now a significant sports business with the NCAA in 2010 signing a $10b dollar agreement with Turner Sports to broadcast the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament from 2011-2014. It should be noted that US Collegiate system is one in which athletes are not paid for their labour.
Although this article shall examine below the issue of what practical raison d'etre ‘amateurism’ has in modern times, the author will argue that the concept does not exist to legitimise its regulations. As a result of this, it can be said that the phenomenon of the collapse of ‘amateurism’ only as an abstract concept is a trend to be welcomed in the sports world where the infringement of athletes’ rights occurs all too easily.
This article shall examine the future of regulations in student sports based on this significant movement in which amateurism is collapsing.
The Collapse of ‘Amateurism’ in Student Sports in Japan
In Japan, like in America, student sports have played a big role in the development of sports. Thus, the aforesaid concept of ‘amateurism’ has a history in being used to protect vested interests in student sports.
This is illustrated particularly with baseball, Japan’s most popular sport. Up until 1993 – the year Japan’s professional football league (J-League) came into being – baseball was the only professional sports league that existed in Japan. In baseball, ever since an incident in 1961 (detailed below) unreasonable regulations were continuously applied by amateur organisations.
In 1961, a professional baseball team midway through the amateur season plucked an amateur player and made him professional (this was named the “Yanagawa incident“ after the player Fukuzo Yanagawa who was signed by the professional team). This incident virtually severed the relations between professional and amateur sports for a prolonged period.
The regulation at the time prevented professionals and amateurs playing matches and training together (Article 10 of the previous Japan Student Baseball Charter, which was expired in April 2010); there were also severe restrictions imposed on players with professional experience in returning to the amateur game. In fact, professional players were forbidden to make a comeback in amateur baseball.
Even for a former professional player to become a student baseball coach following retirement they first had to be a school teacher for over ten years. Thus, due to the imposition of such harsh restrictions, it was virtually impossible to become a student coach (taking into account the time needed to gain a teaching certificate combined with the ten years of practice after a professional career as a player).
These harsh restrictions effectively closed the road to professional players post-retirement, who wanted a second career as a coach at either an amateur team, university or high school coach. On top of this, even university and high school baseball players lost out as it became apparent they could not receive lessons from these professional players. This situation continued for over forty years following the Yanagawa incident, at which point the regulations gradually became more relaxed.
In particular, from 1999 former professional players were permitted to enter amateur baseball teams belonging to the Japan Amateur Baseball Association (“JABA”), at a rate of up to two such players per team per season (under the current Article 11 of the JABA Rules. Currently up to three players are allowed). By the same token, from 2002 reforms were enacted, including making it possible for former professionals that played with JABA amateur teams for more than two years, to rejoin professional teams (Article 15.4 of the JABA Rules).
In order for former professional players to become student baseball coaches, in 1997 the condition that the said player had to work ‘post-retirement for over ten years as a school teacher’ were reduced to ‘over two years’ (under the Japan Student Baseball Association’s previous Rules of Reinstatement of Amateur Qualifications, which expired in July 2013).
Finally in 2013 – over fifty years since the Yanagawa incident – it became possible for professional players to coach an amateur team without having to work as a school teacher by taking prescribed training (the training period carried out on the professional side is one day and on the amateur side is two days) and an aptitude test (new Japan Student Baseball Association’s Rules of Reinstatement of Amateur Qualifications, effective from July 2013).
The Justification of ‘Amateurism’ as a Means to Guarantee the ‘Right to Receive an Education’
As aforementioned, there is a history of the amateur sport gradually relaxing the restrictions on accepting parties from the professional sport. However, a theoretical explanation for this relaxation and the rationale for the restrictions upon which this was premised was never provided.
During the dispute, in principle interaction between amateurs and professionals was prohibited. It was long debated that the regulations of the Japan Student Baseball Association’s (the association for high school and university baseball) Japan Student Baseball Charter (“JSBC”) – which prevented such interaction – should have been reformed. It was not until April 2010 when reforms to the JSBC were finally realised (Article 15 of the new JSBC).
The new JSBC not only brought with it an overhaul of the restrictions that prohibited interaction between professionals and amateurs, its reforms also signalled the beginning of a theoretical explanation regarding the peculiar regulations that blighted student baseball.
This theoretical explanation is focused on the guaranteeing of ‘student rights’ in the regulations of student baseball.
The preamble to the draft amendments of the JSBC, as quoted below, clearly specifies that these are based on the philosophy of student rights.
“All the citizens of Japan shall have the right to receive an equal education under the Constitution of Japan; thus, a student shall have the right to receive such an education at the school to which he/she belongs. Accordingly, the school shall be obliged to put into effect this right.
In this sense, amateur baseball is a part of this school education, and amateurism shall be a fundamental element of this.
In recognition of this, this charter shall uphold to the extent necessary regulations regarding the role of student baseball and shall thereby attempt to cultivate a shared understanding between the relevant parties and organisations."
Are the Regulations In Line with the Pretext of Guaranteeing ‘The Right to Receive an Education’?
The grounds for the regulations in student baseball can be justified from the perspective of guaranteeing the student’s ‘right to receive an education’. This in itself means that the new JSBC shall include just principles.
As far as baseball is played as a student sport, it must also be carried out to the extent that it does not infringe the student’s right to receive an education. Even in the present day one thing that should be valued is the point that students and their freedoms should be protected from the pressures – commercial and societal – that are common with sports. However, there can be a tendency for unreasonable, excessive regulations to be carried out from the perspective of guaranteeing the rights of amateur stakeholders.
In fact at the time of writing this article in April 2015, this tendency still persists, as illustrated below.
Firstly, since 2013 the restrictions were significantly relaxed concerning parties that were formerly involved with professional baseball (e.g. retired players or parties that were previously linked to the professional game) being able to acquire qualifications as coaches in student baseball (e.g. in high school or universities) – in other words, the reinstatement of amateur qualifications. However, even now there are still massive restrictions on the interaction between current professional and amateur baseball players. Basically, unless it is authorised in the JSBC such parties cannot even practice together, let alone exchange technical guidance (Article 14.3 of the new JSBC).
Professional and amateur players may only train together annually during the offseason – for two months every December and January – and the place for this training is restricted to the professional player’s old school (interaction with parties that do not possess student eligibility is governed by Article 2.1 of the Japan Student Baseball Association’s Rule of interaction with parties that do not possess student eligibility). Furthermore, as the provision of technical guidance is also prohibited, it is inevitable that the relevant parties will hesitate to interact with each other due to the possibility of being in breach of regulations. For instance, professional players could even be reluctant to answer questions about baseball skills (e.g. how can they pitch the ball so fast?), despite the fact such technical matters may appear on that player’s own SNS account or website.
Secondly, regulations exist stipulating that the amount of remuneration (e.g. salary or compensation) a student baseball coach receives. This cannot, based on social norms, exceed the salaries of educators at JSBC-affiliated institutions (Article 24 of the JSBC).
Since the 2013 reforms, there have even been calls from traditional, die-hard amateur stakeholders that the many former professional players currently acquiring their coaching qualifications should coach students without any remuneration (or for less remuneration than was received originally – pre-reforms – by coaches in the amateur game).
In the US, although it was held in past litigation (see Law v. NCAA. 134 F.3d 1010 (10th Cir. 1998)) that the introduction of compensation limits for assistant coaches in the NCAA was in breach of antitrust laws, in Japan analogous restrictions exist that are even harsher than this.
In all truth, can it be said in Japan that these type of regulations are really for the purpose of guaranteeing student-athletes’ ‘right to receive an education’?
It took three years from April 2010 – when the new JSBC was reformulated based on the right of students to receive an education – until 2013 for the restrictions on former professional players being able to acquire coaching qualifications to be relaxed. The main reason for this was due to the strong objections of current amateur coaches against such relaxation of the rules; these parties feared a potential increase in competition from and the possibility of losing their jobs to the former professionals.
Amateur stakeholders have claimed since 2010 that former professional stakeholders without teaching credentials should not be recognised as coaches in student baseball. However, these claims are contradictory when considering the high number of ‘teaching professionals’; namely, baseball coaches without such teaching credentials who already teach in Japan’s high schools (although such parties are not former baseball professionals, they receive compensation from working in amateur baseball).
‘Amateurism’ Should Not be Used as Grounds to Justify Regulations
In the current day and age the concept of amateurism is still being used as a means to go beyond necessary regulation in order to justify implementing excessive regulation (this is mainly to protect vested interests). In light of this, a re-examination should be undertaken about whether it is appropriate to use ‘amateurism’, in the modern day, as the grounds to justify regulation.
In Britain, ‘amateurism’ has a history of being used to justify discrimination against the working classes (Masayuki Tamaki, What are sports? (Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd., August 1999), 27.). Originally, however, it was claimed that the fundamental meaning of this was due to the nature of sport; namely, that the ‘enjoyment of sport is in the competition’. Thus, in order for players to be able to reap the benefits from the ‘nature of sport’, amateurism was used to try to release athletes from the pressures (commercial and societal) of winning, which are commonplace in professional sports, and to try to guarantee their freedom.
From the viewpoint of specific tournaments, regulations in the form of competition conditions were required to govern eligibility matters. For instance, these were used to cover situations where it would be unreasonable to apply the same qualification criteria to amateurs, who could only train in their spare time, and to professionals, who had specific training regimes.
In other words, it can be said that the essence of ‘amateurism’ merely comes down to two points: (1) the fundamental spirit that sports are purely for enjoyment; and (2) to discern eligibility for tournaments.
Therefore the spirit specified in the first point should be realised simply by ensuring that athletes have an opportunity to play sports as amateurs and nothing beyond. Applying dogmatic regulations such as ‘it is bad to receive financial compensation for sport’ to all young athletes is overly-excessive and unnecessary.
The Tragedy of ‘Amateurism’ Being Used For Educational Purposes
With ‘amateurism’, irrespective of the fact that it is originally aligned to the spirit that sports are purely for enjoyment and that players are ‘free’ to compete as such, we must ask the question, why is the doctrine used to ‘restrict’ these players? It is against this background that sports have been used as a tool to educate in Japan.
During the mid-eighteenth century, at the start of the Meiji-era, Japan imported the concept of modern sports from Europe and America. More specifically, this importation coincided with the period when Japan’s policy was to strengthen its national power by: emulating the great powers of Europe and America; building a prosperous country and army; and encouraging new industry. Primarily, sports were used as a tool of ‘physical education’ which was viewed as essential for converting males into soldiers. This is because ‘physical education’ cultivated the mental training and sense of collective action that were important attributes for becoming effective soldiers.
Additionally, Teikoku (imperial) University, which at that time was attended by the children of the ruling elite in Japan, also imported the concept of ‘amateurism’ from Britain as a tool to justify discrimination against the working classes (Ibid., 27). Such a concept was broadly accepted in Japan without any resistance because Teikoku (imperial) University was virtually the only pathway to import European culture at that time.
As a result, in 1911 amateur regulations were codified to allow only certain types of men to participate in the qualification rounds for the Stockholm Olympics in the following year (more specifically these regulations were entitled: ‘Men who Live up to their Names as Students and as Gentlemen’. Kichiji Kimura, An Introduction to the History of Physical Education and Sport (Tokyo: Ichimura Publishing House, March 2010), 129.). Furthermore, this led to the establishment of participation regulations excluding certain parties from participating in the fifth National Sports Festival in 1917 (more specifically these regulations were entitled: ‘Parties who are at Present or were Previously Employed as Athletes or Sports Players’. Ibid., 129).
These events in Japanese sport set the tone for the concept of amateurism and led to sports development being centred on physical education within educational institutions.
Put simply, in Japan sports signify ‘physical education’ and are used as a tool for education (particular in the past with building a prosperous country and army; and encouraging new industry).
In the author’s opinion, it is important matter in ‘physical education’ is how to get young people to train; the focus is on ‘control’ not ‘freedom’. The concept of ‘physical education’ is completely opposed to notions like ‘sports should be played for enjoyment’. In Japan the purpose of sports, through physical education, is to cultivate people to be pliant and conform to the objectives envisaged by superiors or policymakers (e.g. this was formerly to build a prosperous country and army).
As a result of this, one could argue that sport as ‘physical education’ is focused not on the ‘freedom’ of players, but rather on the ‘control’ of these parties. Fostering this link between ‘education’ and ‘sport’, has led to the creation of provisions to ‘control’ under the guise of ‘amateurism’, such as that ‘sport shall not be played for financial gain’. This is regardless of the fact that, when considering the original concept of ‘amateurism’, it should have been that ‘the freedom to play sports without the purpose of receiving financial compensation shall be guaranteed’.
Taking the Concept of ‘Physical Education’ Out of Sports is Necessary to Realise the True ‘Amateurism’
It is clear that the pre-modern concept of ‘physical education’, which was utilised around a century ago to build the nation, does not sit well with the values of a mature country governed by the rule of law in the twenty-first century. Notwithstanding this, the fact that ‘amateurism’ is being put forward as an ‘educational objective’ means that even today it is still being used for the purpose of ‘educators’. In 2013, one problem with this thinking became abundantly clear when tragic incidents involving corporal punishment – a problem that also blights Japanese culture – by sports instructors were uncovered at the basketball club of a Japanese high school and in women’s judo (the idea in Japan is that such violence can be excused if it is for the purpose of education).
In the present day twenty-first century, nothing is more important in student sports and youth sports than to finally get rid of the anachronistic, backward notion that ‘sports’ are intrinsic to ‘education’. Even if the playing of sport culminates in it being linked to factors such as character education, this should come about as a result of it being based on athletes’ freedoms; in particular, the ‘right to receive an education’. It should not be realised through the imposition of prescribed values by schools.
It is absolutely absurd to enforce the dogma that ‘no financial gain should be made in relation to sports’ as ‘education’. The correct role for sports education to play is that both sports which are played for money and those which are not should be respected.
The Role of Student Sports in the Future
In light of the above considerations, it must be said that the mere fact that the owners or the sponsors of a club are schools does not justify regulations that all the student-athletes shall not be paid.
The purpose of participating in nationwide sports tournaments, like American collegiate basketball or American football leagues run by the NCAA or the Japanese high school baseball tournament called ‘Koshien’ run by Japan the High School Baseball Federation (“JHSBF”), is to be crowned champions and generate revenues, which are not disclosed to the public. Basically, such tournaments are nothing short of sports businesses.
These types of student sports are run not based on the principles of ‘amateurism’, where these sports are free from external commercial or societal pressures. On the contrary, being exposed to such strict pressures shows that these sports are operated based on the for-profit club sports model.
Accordingly, it must be said that in such tournaments the collusion of participating clubs (along with the NCAA and the JHSBF, which are like trade associations) to not make any payments to the players, may give rise to antitrust law problems.
Guaranteeing the Right to Receive an Education and Health & Safety
In the authors opinion, at present, the NCAA and the JHSBF would find it difficult to claim that they are reasonable under the guise of ‘education purposes’ not to pay student-athletes compensation. Furthermore, from the perspective above, doubts arise as to whether the regulations of these organisations can ever in anyway guarantee the ‘right for students to receive an education’.
In relation to this, as previously outlined it is essential to guarantee students the ‘right to receive an education’. However, more debate needs to be held on how the system can be developed to protect students from the pressures – commercial and societal – that are associated with winning at sports to guarantee the ‘freedom’ of students, rather than on the problem of how to ‘control’ students.
Some of the issues that must be debated in relation to developing the aforesaid system are outlined below.
- Regulations that restrict the amount of time student-athletes must train. At present, due to the pressures of winning at sports, it is relatively easy for teams to ‘preserve the condition of players for sports’ by cutting back on their study time and burdening them with strict training regimes. The NCAA does restrict the number of hours a week an athlete can practice. Also, in relation to this Article 10 of the JSBC stipulates the following:
- Article 10.1:
“Activities of the baseball team shall not impede the athlete’s right to receive an education, and the said activities shall not impair the health of the athlete.”
- Article 10.2*:
“In principle, the baseball team shall set aside at least one day a week from team activities for the player.”
* Please note that contrary to Article 10.2, it is commonplace for many high school baseball teams to still train seven days a week.
- Article 10.1:
- A system to protect student-athletes from being subjected to corporal punishment and harassment by sports instructors, which may result from the pressures to win at sports. (In 2013, as a consequence of the social problems that arose from the uncovering of corporal punishment scandals, which commonly occur in student sports, various sports organisations established consultation systems to deal with these matters.)
- A system to adequately protect the health & safety of student-athletes, including from being made to play or train in extreme conditions (e.g. under the scorching summer sun in very high temperatures) and from other abuse (e.g. being made to over train by pitching too many times), which may result from the pressures to win at sports. (At the Japanese Koshien high school baseball tournament, during the height of summer when temperatures usually exceed 30 degrees celsius, player abuse problems often arise. These include making players play in matches that last for more than ten innings, or forcing pitchers to pitch consecutively for prolonged periods.)
Basically, for the future of student sports, rather than focus on ‘player control’ regulations (i.e. regulations that stipulate sports as being for ‘educational purposes’), it is much more prudent to concentrate, from the perspective of guaranteeing players’ freedom, on regulations that concern the ‘protection of players’ conditions’ so that they can compete in sports.
As a consequence of young players being exposed to the pressures that are associated with winning in sports (including commercial and societal pressures), such players can easily encounter problems with their right to receive an education or their health & safety. It should be noted that these problems are not only common in amateur sports, they also affect all sports, including professional sports.
Recently in football, the Spanish La Liga powerhouse FC Barcelona has been rocked by controversy at its renowned ‘La Masia’ player academy regarding the transfer and registration of minors that were in breach of FIFA’s rules. In fact, the FIFA rules in question are also concerned with guaranteeing the rights of young players to receive an education. Furthermore, the NCAA also has regulations concerning academic requirements. However with regard to this, more efficient regulations must be considered based on deeper debate and analysis. (Also, in South Korea, as a result of the negative impact from too much pressure/focus being placed on elite sports, debate has sparked over the necessity to guarantee players’ rights to receive an education.)
For the future of student sports focus should not be placed on regulations that concern sports instructors educating student-athletes. On the contrary, it is massively important that focus is properly concentrated on regulations that concern protecting student-athletes from various pressures, including from overbearing sports instructors.
If the regulations in student sports and youth sports are reformed in the above manner to properly take account of the human rights of young athletes, it may then be possible to reassess amateurism based on the concept as promulgated byPierre de Coubertin and its respective content therein.
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- Tags: Baseball | Basketball | College Sport | Employment Law | FIFA | Governance | J-League | Japan | Japan Amateur Baseball Association (JABA) | Japan Student Baseball Association (JSBA) | Japan Student Baseball Charter (JSBC) | Japan the High School Baseball Association (JHSBF) | La Liga | National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) | Regulation | South Korea | Spain | Spanish La Liga | United States of America (USA)
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Takuya, a Japanese Attorney-at-Law, is the founder and Managing Partner of Field-R Law Offices, a niche sports and entertainment legal practice based in Tokyo.
Takuya has vast legal and business experience in sports both in Japan and internationally. He is a member of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, a position held since 2009. In 2016 he became the Chairman of FIFPro Division Asia/Oceania.