Differences Between Professional and Amateur Athletes

18th December 2019
The differences between professional and amateur athletes, from a labor law perspective, are fundamentally based on the relationships established between the athlete and the associations or companies in the sports world.

In the sports world, it’s very common to use the terms professional and amateur to classify sports and athletes. However, far from being a simple and obvious subject, the differences between professional and amateur athletes can take different meanings. It all depends on the point of view or reference we’re looking at.

As a starting point, we could define professional sports as those practiced by individuals with a job that consists of the practice of a sport modality, and not by people who simply enjoy participating in physical activities.

This definition seems to establish some differences between professional and amateur athletes, at least in regard to the sports field. However, we must analyze the subject in a deeper way by taking a look into the regulations of labor law.

To better explain these differences, let’s analyze them from the perspective of the current worker rights and obligations in Spain.

Professional and amateur athletes according to labor law

In the first place, it’s important to note that if an athlete represents a club in a determined division or category of a sport modality, this doesn’t necessarily make him a sports professional. Therefore, the differences between professional and amateur athletes aren’t only a matter of being registered to a sports organization.

In the same sense, we shouldn’t assume that the only professional athletes in Spain are those who are a part of professional Spanish leagues: ACB, ASOBAL, LFP, and LNFP.

An amateur athlete running

It’s true that in the sports field it’s usual for professional athletes to be registered in a league. However, from the point of view of labor law, this isn’t a requirement.

It’s perfectly possible for a professional athlete to be part of an amateur club and participate in non-official competitions. For example, let’s imagine a professional basketball player that makes the decision of ‘retiring’ in a regional division. The level of competition or category doesn’t take away the professional status of the athlete.

Therefore, if we want to understand the differences between professional and amateur athletes from a labor law perspective, we have to focus on the labor relationships and the professional nature of the sport. All of this is determined by the Spanish laws. Let’s take a look.

Professional status of the athlete according to the Spanish law

Just like any other worker, the job of professional athletes is also contemplated in the Spanish Statute of Worker’s Rights. However, the text doesn’t focus on setting the specific conditions of sports as a job; instead, it includes athletes among the cases of special labor relationships.

In this same classification, we can find a wide selection of professional activities. From the creations of artists in public shows to the tasks performed by incarcerated citizens who are serving their sentences in the jails of the Iberian Peninsula.

Therefore, if we want to identify the specific terms of labor relationships for professional athletes, we must refer back to the Royal Decree 1006/1985, from June 26. Its content sets the conditions that orient the practice of sports as a job solely for athletes of Spanish nationality.

Likewise, we can find the labor relationships for foreign athletes that work professionally in Spain in the Resolution of August 12, 2005, published by the Secretariat of State for Immigration and Emigration.

Two professional athletes preparing for their next voleyball competition

Voluntary practice and retribution

According to the Royal Decree 1006/1985, a professional athlete is someone who voluntarily adopts a sport as their job. They must also receive economical retribution from a club or other sports association that they represent.

This definition also includes work contracts signed between athletes and companies or commercial firms to perform tasks in the sports field. The same thing goes for possible recruitment between athletes and companies specialized in the organization of shows and sports events.

However, and in conclusion, the text makes it evident that we can’t consider those who practice sport activities in clubs, but only receive financial compensation for the expenses generated by the practice of said activity, as professional athletes.

  • Real Decreto 1006/1985, de 26 de junio, por el que se regula la relación laboral especial de los deportistas profesionales. Extraído de: https://www.boe.es/buscar/doc.php?id=BOE-A-1985-12313
  • Procedimiento para autorizar la residencia y el desarrollo de actividades laborales deportivas profesionales por extranjeros. Extraído de: https://www.boe.es/boe/dias/2005/08/22/pdfs/A29164-29166.pdf