When the Rio Olympics officially kick off on Aug. 5, it's likely that you'll see some familiar faces. Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, leading the U.S. men's basketball team, are just a few of the professional athletes competing at the Olympics this year, along with champions such as sprinter Usain Bolt and swimmer Michael Phelps. Like LeBron James, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic in the past, professional athletes' involvement in the Olympic Games has become the norm.
But pro athletes weren't always welcome to the Games. For years, the Olympics centered around the struggle and glory of amateur athletes. Hearing about the underdog athlete beating out the competition is certainly an inspiring story, but with today's proliferation of professional athletes, the updated rules make more sense. The main difference between pro and amateur athletes is their salary or compensation by teams or sponsorships, as well as their skill level. Now, it's pretty rare to be an athlete and not have some type of income from the sport.
It wasn't until the 1988 Olympics that pro athletes were allowed to compete in ice hockey, soccer, and tennis. The rule applied only to players under the age of 23. When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) first instituted this change, it was decided as an experiment to see how the competitors, and the public, would react. It eventually opened up the ruling to include additional sporting events.
At one of its strictest points, the Olympics stripped medals from competitors who had received any amount of money for their sport. This happened to track and field star Jim Thorpe, who accepted money as a semi-pro baseball player in college. The IOC stripped him of his medals from the 1912 decathlon and pentathlon, and it wasn't until years later that the medals were reinstated when the rules softened.
By the '80s, television networks began broadcasting the games, opening up the viewership to audiences around the world who couldn't travel to the ceremonies. Since then, advertising and sponsorships have trickled in, but the IOC still keeps regulations on athletes. Before the London Olympics in 2012, athletes used the hashtag #WeDemandChange to protest against Rule 40 in the Olympic Charter, which states:
Except as permitted by the IOC Executive Board, no competitor, team official or other team personnel who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games.
Last year, the IOC loosened the rules to include non-Olympic advertising.
New for 2016 is the addition of professional boxers to the Games. In June, the International Boxing Association (AIBA) ruled to open up the Rio competition to pros, which was the last sport barring professionals from participating. AIBA President Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu summed up the rational nicely, via InsideTheGames, "In my belief, every athlete should have the right to go to the Olympic Games." So be on the lookout for some familiar faces at the Games, as there will be a number of professional athletes competing.