Bodybuilding is a rapidly advancing sport in Afghanistan. The country is achieving increased acclaim in the sport as highlighted most recently by the Afghan Bodybuilding Team winning 6 gold medals in the 43rd Asian bodybuilding championships this year. Mohammad Yousuf Sakhi, Mohammad Haroun Azimi and Mohammad Asif Sakhi each won two gold medals in the competitions held in Kazakhstan and have gone down in history as the first three Afghan bodybuilders to win gold medals in the Asian competitions.
Afghan bodybuilders have achieved landmark success. Shukerullah Helmandi, a 28 year old bodybuilder from Helmand Province, who twice won the Mr Afghanistan title in 2009 and 2011, went on to win the first ever gold medal for Afghanistan at the 8th South Asian Bodybuilding Championship in Bhutan in 2011.
The Championships were a prominent success for the Afghan team as fellow Afghan bodybuilder Zemerai Popal also won a gold medal and overall the Afghan team achieved first in the championship. The Afghan team took home two gold medals, three silver and one bronze.
These successes highlight not only personal victories for the competitors but are pivotal in highlighting a significant increase in Afghans pursuing bodybuilding. They also draw attention to the daily struggles of these bodybuilders to pursue victory in the sport without having access to the facilities and sponsorships enjoyed by American and European bodybuilders.
Zubairullah Mohsin, the secretary general of the South Asian Bodybuilding Federation and head of the Afghanistan National Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation highlighted this issue;
“There is no doubt that we have in Afghanistan young sportsmen and athletes who are of top class material with the potential to become champions and secure victory in international competitions. However, in a country that is struggling to find its feet after decades of war and crippling poverty, much work and funding are needed to achieve this.”
The victories of the Afghan teams highlight the lack of sponsorship deals for athletes and stress the importance of state assistance to enable Afghan athletes to advance into the big leagues. Athletes such as Helmandi have publicly stated that with more government support, they could achieve further victories for Afghanistan in bodybuilding:
“If I am supplied with [the facilities of] a good club and good food, I will be able to compete globally, and serve up more of the same results as the Asian competitions”
Despite their struggles, the successes of individual bodybuilders such as Helmandi demonstrate to Afghanistan that it is possible to become a champion despite humble roots, inspiring a young generation to pursue bodybuilding. Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal reinstated this aim, stating, “We do whatever we can to persuade youths in the province to take part in sports”.
Moreover, the success of these individual bodybuilders seems to have sparked an increased interest in bodybuilding in the country as a whole. According to recent figures, in Kabul more than 200 gyms have been established and more than 1000 gyms have opened nationwide with more to follow.
The 6 gold medals won by the Afghan Bodybuilding Team in the 43rd Asian bodybuilding championships this year can only increase enthusiasm for the sport. It provides an opportunity to demonstrate to the people of Afghanistan, as well as the bodybuilding community worldwide, how far Afghan bodybuilders have progressed in recent years.
Mohammad Zahir Aghbar, the chairman of the Afghan National Olympic Committee has publicly stressed the Afghan team’s potential for strengthening national unity;
“Becoming a hero is hard and maintaining championship is harder than I ask from you [medal winners] to gain moral medal for the country as well as gold medal in strengthening national unity”
Consistent victories, as well as increased media awareness of the need for financial support for Afghan bodybuilders suggests that Afghanistan can only continue to progress in the sport. A significant increase in the number of gyms available enables more young people to discover bodybuilding and pursue it as a career. As more people enter the sport and Afghan teams continue to achieve landmark victories in major competitions, the future of bodybuilding in Afghanistan looks extremely promising.