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News Navigator: Why do athletes go professional?

Kohei Uchimura holds the gold medal in men's solo gymnastics at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, on Aug. 10, 2016. (Mainichi)

Kohei Uchimura, who won gold at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in both individual and team gymnastics, has announced he is becoming a professional gymnast. The Mainichi answers common questions readers may have about athletes going professional.

    Question: What's noteworthy about Uchimura going pro?

    Answer: Uchimura has become Japan's first professional gymnast. While preparing for competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, he will also reportedly work to spread the popularity of the sport. A few days ago Uchimura signed his first contract with a major sports equipment maker as a pro gymnast.

    Another Rio athlete, Aska Cambridge, who won silver in the men's 400-meter-relay, has announced he is also going pro.

    Q: What's different sponsor-wise between a pro athlete and an amateur athlete?

    A: An amateur generally can only belong to one company or other organization, while a professional can receive sponsorship money from multiple sources. Sponsoring companies will seek to use the athlete, such as Uchimura, in advertisements to promote their brands.

    Q: What does one have to do to become a professional in their sport?

    A: In baseball, members of the 12 teams in the Central League or Pacific League are automatically considered professional. In the Japan Women's Football League and the "B. League" men's basketball league, players are considered either amateur or professional depending on the type of contract they make with their team. In golf, boxing and bowling, athletes have to pass a test to be recognized as a professional.

    Q: How much do professional athletes make?

    A: According to the U.S. business magazine Forbes, the highest-paid athlete in the world in 2016 was soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo, of Real Madrid, who earned the equivalent of around 9.4 billion yen. The highest-paid Japanese athlete was tennis player Kei Nishikori, who took home around 3.6 billion yen.

    However, only some athletes receive these kinds of huge amounts. There are many professional athletes in tougher situations than amateurs, such as ones who receive only between 100,000 and 200,000 yen a month, and only during the months their sport is competing. The road of a professional athlete is a hard one. (Answers by Akira Matsumoto, Sports News Department)

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