For years people have asked: Is bodybuilding a sport? In my opinion, the answer is no – at least not the way most organizations present the competitions right now. First, most events aren’t drug tested and, as a result, the competitions are rife with drug abuse. Forget the BSers who tell you that drugs in bodybuilding are no worse than in any other sport. They are. It’s not a problem of “drugs in sport” like it is with, say, baseball or track and field; rather, when it comes to bodybuilding, drugs are the sport, which is exactly why I can’t call it a sport at all. One of my friends, a former top-level national competitor, calls bodybuilding “home to doping.” In non-drug-tested competitions, oftentimes it's the guy who is rich and crazy enough to take the most stuff who wins. In the end, though, one has to ask: How can anyone think that chemical warfare using your body resembles anything close to a sport?
Second, the presentation of the competitions is off. For instance, there are organizations that allow their competitors to dress up in costumes for their posing routines thinking that it will “entertain” the audience more and make for a better show. I’ve been to these shows and seen guys dress up like warriors, and I was even at one show where a competitor wore a Zorro outfit, complete with hat, cap and sword. Foolish? You bet. That kind of stuff isn’t entertaining; instead, it’s downright silly to the point of being embarrassing. After all, they’re supposed to be competing not looking like they’re auditioning for the Village People.
Then there’s the routine itself – costume or not, does it make sense to have a choreographed posing routine when no organization that I know of even judges it? In addition, almost all of the competitors’ routines are so bad that they’d be laughed off the stage at a local talent show. Best Poser awards usually go to the guy who is the best dancer. If he moonwalks the crowd goes nuts. In what other sport are “athletes” expected to double as “entertainers” when they compete?
I could go on and on about other problems in competitions, but suffice it to say that the way bodybuilding is presented today, it’s about as close to a real sport as a hula-hoop contest is. But it doesn’t have to be that way if just a few things are changed.
Francois Beauregard is a natural competitor who enjoys competing with the IDFA because the organization only puts on drug-tested events and they treat their competitions like a sport.
For bodybuilding to be a sport, the problem of drug use has to be addressed seriously, which is simply a matter of an organization being willing to put into place a rigorous drug-testing program like real sports have. By doing so, however, the freak-show element will be gone. No longer will competitors be 250 pounds or more. At natural shows you’ll be lucky to see guys who are 200 pounds. But if everyone is on a level playing field, I believe the crowds will still like it. After all, it’s a competition to see who beats whom, not to see who is the most grotesque.
The other main thing to address is the presentation. No more goofy posing routines and certainly no costumes should be allowed. In fact, there probably shouldn’t even be a posing routine whatsoever – the compulsories, yes, but not a posing routine that’s choreographed to music. This isn’t American Idol; it’s supposed to be a sports competition. So treat it that way on game day.
These ideas might seem far-fetched to most people, and I suspect that many think these changes could never happen. But think again. Over the last two years, International Drug Free Athletics (IDFA) has stepped up their drug-testing program significantly, which has resulted in what I believe is the “cleanest” competitive stage in the country, and they’ve eliminated the posing routines for all of their amateur shows. This was the result of IDFA president Shaun Campbell recognizing the pitfalls inherent in most bodybuilding competitions today and making the changes necessary to improve his events. It’s worked.
The increase in drug testing has allowed drug-free competitors to compete on a level playing field and, in turn, has brought in more competitors to the organization. The eradication of the posing routines has resulted in shows that are faster paced and more exciting for the crowd. Competitors seem to like having no posing routine, too. Instead of them being tasked with performing a routine, which isn’t judged anyway, they’re simply given a short amount of time to hit their favorite poses for the crowd. No costumes, no lousy posing, no worrying about the sound guy playing the wrong music for the competitor onstage, which happens time and time again at almost every competition. The shows run quickly and efficiently with a focus on its competitive aspect, not cheap crowd entertainment.
And Shaun’s not done yet. He revealed to me the other day that he’s working to improve the judging system – he feels that certain things can be done to move away from purely subjective judging to having a system that’s more objective and where the judges are more accountable. Shaun won’t yet reveal what some of those changes might be, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, in 2011, we saw a judging system put into place where judges openly disclose their scores and are answerable, publicly, for their rankings. This is in stark contrast to almost every other bodybuilding competition where the judges’ scores are held secret, something that’s completely unfair to the competitors and the spectators and runs contrary to what is done in real sports.
For the reasons I mentioned earlier, I don’t consider bodybuilding a sport. But that’s changing, largely through the effort of the IDFA and the changes they have already put into place. And if the IDFA moves forward with some changes to the way the events are judged, making the events more objective than subjective, then that might be enough for bodybuilding to be called a bona fide sport. I’m happy about that. As far as I’m concerned, let the rest of them have their hula- hoop contests, at the IDFA it’s about the sport of bodybuilding, which is precisely why it is the only physique organization I endorse. Stay tuned.
. . . Doug Schneider, Publisher
Doug Schneider is the publisher and chief photographer for SeriousAboutMuscle.com.