5 Reasons Why Bodybuilding Should Be An Olympic Sport
"The components of the programme are sports, disciplines and events. The sports are those sports governed by the IFs. A discipline is a branch of a sport comprising of one or several events. An event is a competition in a sport or in one of its disciplines, resulting in a ranking and giving rise to the award of medals and diplomas... Only sports that adopt and implement the World Anti-Doping Code can be included or remain in the programme."
- excerpt from the IOC Charter
Reading time: 5-7mins
The statue of the Diskobolos (discus thrower). The ancient Olympic Games ran for approx. 1200 years before being discontinued by Christian Emperor Theodosius I in 393AD, claiming it as a 'Pagan' festival as it was dedicated to Zeus.
It looks like Bodybuilding can in theory, according to the second rule, be included in the Olympic Games - it does involve several events/ disciplines and it does rank competitors with awards (see top of page). However, by its current nature it cannot possibly adopt the World Ant-Doping Code - and the reasons for that are obvious, (even if there are some clean and natural movements within the industry). There is also the simple matter that Bodybuilding is not recognised as a sport by the International Federations of the Olympic movement, which makes it exempt from applying as well.
However, there is still stigma attached to the sport and its relevance or eligibility to even regard itself as a valid contender for an Olympic slot even if the sport could remain drug free, and that is what will be discussed in this article.
1. Physical Beauty Has Always Been Part of The Olympics
I want you to imagine all those Greek and Roman statues of heroes, athletes and gods - imagine the white marble exquisitely carved and displaying almost impossible anatomical perfection, from the shape of their full and ripped muscles to the flow of their hair and body position, right down to the shape of their finger tips. Not one of them lacking in physical beauty from every angle. Why are these ancient carvings always perfectly depicted beings? Why not depict imperfection? It's meant to be 'art' after all right...? There are some exceptions, but the most famous and admired are always depicting a subject of immense beauty and poise. It's clear we've been obsessed with anatomical beauty for thousands of years.
You can understand the celebration of the human form in ancient Greece once you learn that all participants of the Ancient Olympic Games at Olympia (Greece) competed in the nude. This was in part due to the hot weather, but also very appropriate for what the essence of the games represents - a celebration of the achievements of the human body. Participants also rubbed themselves in olive oil to keep the skin smooth and maintain an appealing look to other competitors... This is sounding oddly familiar now right...?
The emphasis on the 'cosmetic' nature of competition in Ancient Greece chymes well with the Greek belief that for something to be beautiful then it must also be useful - and vice versa - for something to be useful it must also be beautiful. This concept is open to interpretation but what I believe this means is if you think something is beautiful then it serves a function - but it does not necessarily have to perform that function in that moment for you to appreciate it, e.g. Apple Products are beautiful, even just sitting there on the table, but it is their form coupled with their potential use that makes them beautiful.
The Statue of David by Michelangelo, completed between 1501 and 1504. Popularly used in a modern context as a depiction of male beauty due to its musculature, proportion, poise and stoic facial expression.
2. Physical Beauty Has To Be Earned
"No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable."
- Socrates 469-399BC
This 2,000 year old phrase said by Socrates, one of the great philosophers and observers of mankind in recorded human history, has proven very popular amongst those who train specifically for beauty or performance. Why? Because it is said from the perspective of the few who have attained physical beauty or prowess and aimed at those who have not - and we all like to feel self-righteous in our own decisions and wish for others to follow us and re-affirm our actions to be good. Those who train with this purpose in mind are immensely proud of it and in many ways wish to show it off. The Olympic stage could be the ultimate platform for this.
Do you agree with Socrates? If the answer is Yes then you must be deep into your training, or at least deep into your thought process of it. If the answer is No, then you've never experienced the encapsulating and all consuming nature that is the pursuit of physical perfection - (e.g. You don't workout, or you don't train with any particular purpose at all - and that's not ok, according to Socrates). The point here is that no-one is born with ripped, full, balanced and strong physiques. Someone might have genetics that make obtaining these things slightly easier, but everyone still has to work for it, and for the most part it is extremely challenging. To achieve 'Pro' status for physical development is reserved for the few, not the many (especially naturally).
3. All Athletes Are Narcissistic, But That's Ok
From the outside, a Bodybuilding or Fitness Model Show might just look like a narcissism project - and you'd be exactly right. The word 'Narcissism' derives from the Greek mythical story of Narcissus - a man that was so unbelievably handsome that he was hypnotised by his own reflection in a pond, and starved to death looking at himself... - a pretty clear message. However, there are differing views on Narcissism in both ancient Greece and the modern world. The Greek philosopher Aristotle thought it a derivative of Pride - which he thought was the most profound virtue a person could possess. It drives your self-worth and raises your own perception of what you can achieve in your life, essentially it is confidence in one's own abilities.
A modern view is certainly favouring the negative aspects of Narcissism - like vanity, which is the false perception of achievement and the disdain towards others that don't live up to your standard. However, recently people are adopting a more narcissistic approach to life, for today we are increasingly encouraged to 'make it on our own' and become 'independent' - two things that can only happen if we have faith in ourselves and believe we can do these things. Essentially, we are becoming more selfish and therefore raising our love for ourselves, instead of giving it freely to others.
All athletes are Narcissistic BUT not all are vain. Thinking "my body is capable of great things," is different to thinking "my body is the best in the world." - The first requires constant training and passion to drive forward (self-confidence), the second requires nothing but self-admiration (vanity). All an athlete wants to do is prove his or her worth and re-affirm their belief that they can achieve what they believe they can achieve - it is not exclusive to bodybuilders, every athlete in the Olympics thinks this way.
4. The Same Problems In All Athletic Events
It's easy to be sceptical about the possibility of including Bodybuilding in the Olympics, there are just so many problems it faces. Although, if you look closely you may draw some similarities to a lot of other events in terms of these perceived problems. Let's identify some of them;
'Beauty is subjective' - meaning that it is the opinion of an individual as to who they find more beautiful than someone else, so true victory would be too hard to measure.
Yes there is a problem here, as no measure of judgement can be truly objective if humans are involved. At least a machine can time athletes without prejudice, and tape measures and video replays can portray clearly the tiniest margin of true victory. However, there are so many events in the Olympics that rely solely on the discretion of judges, like Diving, Gymnastics, Dressage, Boxing, Judo and others. These events are also a matter of opinion, and we often see judges disagree on things.
'It promotes vanity over performance' - meaning that the young generation's perception of what is physically normal might be distorted, and people may get too obsessed with their appearance - causing depression, instead of participating in fun and empowering sports and games.
I would love to say that what the spectators think is irrelevant to the competitive nature of a Bodybuilding show... However, the Olympic guidelines for accepting a sport/event does imply that it has to be spectator friendly and I suppose that does mean both visually and morally. But there are events that simply don't adhere to this standard either, like Boxing - punching someone repeatedly in the face for points and admiration (+ similar events). What message does this send our kids? Violence will win you medals? I know... it's a leap, but think about it.
'Olympic sports should only test performance' - meaning that every sport tests nothing else but what the athlete can achieve in skill, speed, strength or endurance on the day.
Contrary to popular belief, a Bodybuilding show is also a performance - over half the points you accumulate in a competition come from the mandatory poses and the posing routine you perform. Many times a competitor has lost out on awards simply by not being able to portray his/her body in a way that shows their physique to the judges. It is not a matter of just turning up, you have to have the skill to show your body - and it takes years of practice. The problem here is education of the spectatorship. Bodybuilders have the Skill to show their bodies and the mental Strength to get in incredible shape (which is extremely difficult when drug free).
5. A Healthy Obsession
The body never lies, it is a bundle of millions of chemical processes that happen simultaneously. To keep these processes running optimally it needs the correct environment. Without the correct food or stimulation the body will simply not react appropriately. This means that, like all Athletic Sports, to be successful in Natural Bodybuilding you must lead an extremely clean and healthy lifestyle, as well as training intensely. Plus, while Sports are about being better than someone else, Bodybuilding is about being the best version of yourself - which is much less humiliating. If we can promote this side of the Bodybuilding world and down-play the negativity around narcissism we will be on our way to portraying Bodybuilding in a more positive light.
The education and celebration of the human body must take precedence over any emotional or stigmatic view. Bodybuilding has so much to offer in terms of Nutritional education (being able to control very accurately your own body composition, energy levels + health) and targeted muscular development (improve weak muscle groups and improve strength, performance, injuries, stress and posture). Once this happens then Bodybuilding can be received as a real sport and possibly even transcend sport itself, and not just as a beauty pageant.
So What Is The Next Step?
Bodybuilding needs to branch off into a seriously governed Natural Federation that can effectively implement the World Anti-Doping Code. Without this there is simply no chance of it even being recognised as an International Sport. This will ensure that the responsibility of policing drug abuse within the sport is governed by its own sporting federation and not any Olympic committee, and enable a drug free culture amongst competitors. This will go a long way to eradicating stigma of drug use within the sport, (if policies can be effectively enforced).
A change must also be applied to how the competition is formatted, placing more emphasis and criteria on a performance based show. This could mean allocating more points to a posing routine or judging qualification for the 'proportion and conditioning' round purely on posing first - meaning that a 'performance' alone will qualify you for the physique critique component. Posing could also evolve into mimicking stances that depict athletic events - like the Discuss Thrower stance.
Something that can also be considered is if a Natural Bodybuilding Sport can become more about posing and expression then it may be allowed to tag onto another sporting event already in the Olympics as a sub-discipline, like the individual Rhythmic Gymnastics - which is already quite similar to many female bodybuilder posing routines. Just food for thought...
Lastly, there needs to be a change in Judging culture. Even in supposedly Natural competitions there are participants who take drugs, and quite often they win. This is pure negligence on the part of the judging panel who know full well what an enhanced body looks like compared to a natural one (the alternative is unthinkable - what if they can't tell?). The judges decide who wins, so they need to remain educated and 100% strict on the matter of drug abuse. There are many experts, and I know a few, who can tell instantly if someone is on drugs or not, regardless of size. These are the individuals who should be judging Natural competitions.
We need to look at the big picture. Bodybuilding is becoming more and more popular year by year. It offers more than just narcissism, it offers nutritional education, injury rehab, creative exploration, artistic values, self-worth (pride), self-empowerment and it also provides those without sporting skill an outlet to achieve the best version of themselves.
"Bodybuilding is much like any other sport. To be successful, you must dedicate yourself 100% to your training, diet and mental approach." - Arnold Schwarzenegger