Suzanne Lenglen and the Definition of Professionalism in Tennis during the Interwar Period

Struggles to Define the Framework for Practising Sports
By Florys Castan-Vicente

In 1926, tennis champion Suzanne Lenglen (1899-1938) signed a contract with a manager to play exhibition matches, sparking heated debates about the question of professionalism, both within the press and in the Fédération française de tennis, which decided to exclude her. An analysis of her career before and after she turned professional shows that in her case, despite the tennis federation’s message of firmness, the conditions for playing under either status (professional or amateur) were not very different. In addition, Lenglen’s decision to go professional led the tennis federation to redefine what it meant to be a professional, distinguishing between instructors and ‘exhibition professionals’, in order to sideline the latter. Through this example, the definition of amateur or professional athletes appears to be more a power play in the hands of the federation than a category that corresponds to actual practices.

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