Artisans and Gentlemen Athletes

The technical description  the word Artisan is a skilled craftsman, when the word was used in respect of an Athlete, it represented a totally different meaning.

Prior to 1949, any would be athlete that worked with his hands or his job description fitted, having even the slightest hint of manual activity, was classed as an Artisan.

Consequently they were banned from competing in any events against Amateurs (Gentlemen that did not work with their hands, business professionals with the equivalent of University Education).

This disqualified a substantial amount of the population from competing in the Olympics, the truly Amateur Sporting World Championships.

In this modern world of relative equality it is hard to believe, but it was a massive social barrier prior to 1949.

The governing bodies, ruled that any person working with his hands or was employed on physical work would have a distinct advantage by being stronger and fitter over Gentlemen, who did not do any physical work. 

The fact that the Gentlemen worked shorter hours, had longer holidays than the Artisans and could afford far more time for training, carried absolutely no weight.

The result of this social engineering was that any good sportsman classed as an Artisan became a professional, which further divided sport in all areas, the slur of winning money was severely frowned on by the Gentlemen, the sad truth was that the Professionals were accepted as being far better sportsmen across the board.

The USA took a more pragmatic view, whilst Western Europe enforced this division rigidly.

Rowing was a key offender in perpetuating the Artisan division, it became an elitist sport supported by the major Schools and Universities throughout the Western World.

The tidal section of the River Thames  was home to many families of boat builders and waterman, now household names in racing boat construction, many brilliant oarsmen, the best competing in the Doggetts Coat and Badge.

The Doggets Coat and Badge is the oldest rowing boat race that still survives, it is raced for on the Thames annually in sculling boats and considered to be one of the toughest sculling races, because of the conditions on that tidal reach of the Thames (Wikipedia, Doggetts Coat and Badge).

The winners and contestants in this extreme race were classed as Artisans and denied consideration for all the Olympics prior to 1949, resulting in them all becoming professionals.

Between the two world wars, gambling was rife on sculling races, with two or more professional scullers battling it out and pursued by a flotilla of boats and steamers with bookmakers and gamblers betting at every stage of the race.

Undesirables, dropping bricks or large rocks on the scullers boats from bridges to nobble the better opposition, the stories are endless.

Going back to the Artisans, have any of you wondered about the Artisan division in your Golf Club, they can only play before 8.00 am, and several times a year they all have to replace or fill the divots on the course.

Until a few years ago the Golf  Professional had to be invited into the Members Club House, thankfully this has gone.

How many times have you seen one of the worlds top golfers, doff his cap or touch his forelock in old clips of long gone Golfing Championships, these days these young Golfing Gods, whoop with delight and throw their caps in the air and everyone shakes hands or throw their arms around everyone.

In the top echelons of cricket, there used to be separate rooms in the major club pavilions, with   Gentleman on one door and Players the other, the Gentlemen could never hold a candle to the Players performances.

But many of these Amateurs sought and did control the majority of sports, in some cases maintaining the divide, thankfully this has changed for the better.

In 1948 I was asked to cox a four for the Olympics, I was ten years old steering a boat supplied by  the UK Olympic Games Organisation.

There was absolutely no way that I would cox the four in the Olympics, I was too light and lacked serious racing competition, as with most of the crews, so soon after the war.

I was eligible to compete, because I was still at school, whereas my Father was not, regardless that he was commissioned during the war, the Artisan slur remained.  

My Father regained his Amateur status after the 1948 Games, as with many more and the previous Gentlemanly competition vanished to be replaced by serious competition for all.

The term Artisan all but vanished, except for a few sports, like golf, where an Artisan membership exists in certain clubs, strangely the Artisans in these clubs, resist all efforts to integrate themselves into the main club and lead a separate existence.

The crew that I coxed would be hard pressed to compete with subsequent crews that I rowed in, drinking pints of beer and smoking before an outing, has no place in modern sport.

Because of the Artisan rule and being an amateur, it raises many questions as to the true performance of Olympic medal winners prior to 1949, far be it for me to question an Athletes moment of glory, when a massive section of the population were excluded from competing.

Jack Kelly, Snr. fell foul of the Artisan rule when he tried to scull at Henley (Wikipedia), the farce of  being classed as an Artisan because he had been apprenticed at an early age, regardless of being worth millions of dollars.

Top athletes dedication is rewarded by massive sponsorship which I or my crews never enjoyed, I worked to row, training twice a day with minimal financial aid, I envy modern athletes.

The world of the Artisan Sportsman is virtually gone, along with the discrimination, thankfully.