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The Online No Bull Collection

IS bodybuilding falling

by Ron Ball

Last issue, I talked about the reasons why it is so difficult to get men into contests and the extent of the commitment needed - in time and money - to achieve success in amateur contests. Now I want to say something about the problems of judging and the lack of rewards for Pro Bodybuilders. I will also say something about why the IFBB GP last year had a such a poor turn-out.

So, it is not difficult to see why many bodybuilders are discontented. Fundamentally it comes down to money at the highest level and to the effort involved plus prospects at the lowest. No neophyte bodybuilder (in the real world) expects to make buckets of money from the moment he or she walks onto a contest platform and shows off his/her physique to the world, but the ones who want to try to get to the top in the sport would like to think that somewhere along the way they could start to get some recognition in the form of money. Some bodybuilders can make enough money from being a bodybuilder pure and simple, without running a gym or anything else - but the numbers who can do this are tiny and mainly based in the USA.

Bodybuilders know how much effort and money goes into building a good quality physique and it hurts to see men and women in some other sports getting massive sums of money for the display of dubious talents while they get next to nothing at all. A recent survey of wages in the UK showed that the average weekly wage was £400 - two thirds of the population are below the average but the figure is distorted by a small percentage of very high earners. At the top of the high earners were Premier league footballers - their overage wage is £33,000 per week and this does not include other money from advertising Walkers crisps etc., personal appearances, TV shows, etc. - and recent contract agreements suggest that this is likely to go considerably higher. Some footballers even have very 'arduous' contracts with newspapers which demand that they eat breakfast once per month with a reporter and generally chat about football - such contracts are worth about £60,000 per year for 36 hours "work' including travelling time over £1,600 per hour considering the quality of some league matches and how unsuccessful our footballers are on the international stage we have to say that many players are ludicrously over-paid.

Many bodybuilders would feel well off if they could get £33,000 or even better £60,000 per year from this sport. But we should not forget that the majority of performers in most sports are more like bodybuilders than like footballers, lacking in support and money. Many of the individuals competing on behalf of Great Britain at the Olympic Games this year will be scratching around for the money to buy their kit and actually take time off work to train and to go to Australia. Their only hope of reward will be a medal. I recently read a newspaper interview with a young man who looks set to be a serious contender at international level in short track speed skating. He reported his difficulties in getting support, but the reporter said he could still enjoy the support of the crowds! “Crowds” he said, "what crowds”? “If a few of my mates turn up to watch I'm doing really well!”
It's not just bodybuilders who need an audience. Much needs to be done in bodybuilding, but as we said above, first there needs to be co-operation. Simple word, but it is an essential and at present it is a word with no meaning in bodybuilding.

But the other problem for contestants concerns the judging. I am not a judge, so perhaps I should not comment on an activity that is almost a certain recipe for controversy. But the fact is that many competitors often feel hard done by. Someone may not agree with the results, particularly their own placing and since he knows that there is a well established record of complaints about judging, he will feel, rightly or wrongly that on this occasion they were the ones on the receiving end of bad judging.
Many times we hear the audiences protesting about results and audiences on the whole are very knowledgeable. Most of the time they are right. Too often I have seen men being wheeled out to judge a major contest and this the only contest they go to from one year to another. They can be quite out of touch with modern bodybuilding. When any judge starts telling me that Steve Reeves and Bill Pearl had the greatest physiques ever, I know we are in trouble. This is bad enough for the amateurs but at the pro level things are much worse. Here the sport is riddled with politics and double dealing. It is clear that unless you and your sponsor are seen in a good light by the top officials, you will never get the contest placing that your physique deserves. Judging decisions are sometimes totally incomprehensible to the fans and to some contestants. Frequently we hear that so-and-so is a new kid on the block, and so he has to serve his time before he gets a good placing. Rubbish! If he has the best physique he should win!! The fact that I had never seen a physique before would never prevent me from seeing that it was the best on the day or it deserved placing 2nd, 3rd or whatever.

On many occasions in recent years I have been at shows with the manager of our gym - former HW Mr. South Africa, Harold Marillier. At these events we will sit together watching a class and hardly speak as the competitors are taken through pre-judging, making up our own minds. Then as the judging nears it’s end we will discuss our opinions of the first six placings. In most cases we will hardly disagree, except by the odd place up or down - if it is more than this we will discuss why. Both of us have had a lot of experience of watching contests and we should not be wildly different in our assessments - there is something wrong if individual judges get very different results.

But other odd judging decisions come down to matters of arse kicking - or perhaps ‘cock sucking!’ These days the internet can give us more insights on what is happening in some areas of bodybuilding and we find out why certain bodybuilders more than certain others did get well placed in pro contests. OK! Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, but some of the reports do have the ring of truth about them. And some of this stuff is not likely to encourage young men to think seriously of devoting the next 10 years to the bodybuilding life-style, being permanently broke, etc, etc. knowing that his chances of top level success may depend on what supplementary ‘services’ he is prepared to supply to somebody or other. Personally, I care not what people do to and with each other in private but none of it should ever be a factor in determining what happens in a bodybuilding contest.

Consider the case of Lee Priest - and he is by no means a unique case. I have been involved in bodybuilding for over 35 years; I have seen every Mr. Olympia winner except Larry Scott and I have seen almost all the top amateur and professional bodybuilders, during that time in the flesh, in contests or seminars. I believe that Lee Priest has the most fantastic physique of anyone I have ever seen. He has appeared on stage massive and ripped at up to 220/225lbs bodyweight at a height of 5’ 4’’. Every part of him IS awesome. Sure he will struggle to beat a monster in condition at 6ft in height and weighing 280lbs. But Lee Priest has been constantly shafted because he will not apparently lick anyone's boots or arse and last year he was fined a substantial sum, $11,980 by the IFBB for his anti-establishment actions.

Over half of this fine was for two offences of daring to criticize the judges. Lee got some legal advice - which presumably cost him more money and his lawyer informed the IFBB that they could not fine him for anything he said against the judges because it infringed his right of free speech which is written into the first amendment of the American Constitution. He is still left with a $5,000 fine for walking out of a contest after he overheard judges planning to give him yet another shafting because he had dared to criticize them. As he apparently said at the time, “Fuck ‘em!” Then he left.
He has had bad treatment many times and the fans can only be grateful that he is one who loves bodybuilding so much that he carries on busting his gut in the gym to get as he has said, “...all my muscles as freaky as possibIe. In a recent interview, Ian Harrison comments on an occasion in 1995 at the Arnold Classic when he was asked by Peter McGough what he thought of the judging. He said, “l turned and pointed to two Pros, Lee Priest and Lee Labrada”. I asked, “Who carries the most muscle mass, has less weak points and is the freakiest? The result? ....... Lee Labrada placed 4th, Lee Priest placed 11th. Where is the logic?

Aaron Baker is another who has now decided to give up the fight. His awesome physique has been consistently ignored. Is it because he tried to get a stable income by signing with the WBF? I don't know, but I do know that he has a terrific physique which deserves better than he has actually achieved. Another report tells us about another judge (this time it was a woman) who would always place a certain competitor very highly because she thought he was "so sexy". I put this down as incompetence. No such person should be judging a bodybuilding contest at any level.

Why was the audience for the EFBB GP so poor? This should be the top bodybuilding contest of the year. It would not be unreasonable to expect a sellout for an event with all the top Pro- bodybuilders in the world on stage with the best of British amateurs. In the early nineties, that was the case in Nottingham seats were all sold months before. Some of the problem stems from the fact that many of those events in Nottingham were often less than advertisements promised. Extracts from the previous week's Olympia contest on video, display by top male or female Bodybuilder, seminars, etc. were promised but turned out to be non-events. The only thing that mattered was the GP contest and sometimes we had waited many hours for this as a result of getting there early in time for the non-happenings.

The other thing is that like so many shows the number of clothing and other stands seems to have steadily declined, so that coming to buy gym/leisure clothing became another possible non-event. There may be some problem as well with over hyping. If you tell people months before that all the tickets are selling fast, many may actually come to believe it and if they then decide just a few days before that they would like to come to the show, they may just assume that there will be no tickets and not bother to check.
But how many did not go for reasons similar to mine? I did not go to the show, although I had not missed one in Nottingham for at least the previous six or seven years - there was no contest in1998. This year, more than at any time for any contest, I heard people complaining about ticket prices. Some may consider this unreasonable; we cannot on the one hand think that bodybuilders should earn more and on the other not be prepared to pay the ticket prices.

Whether it is unreasonable or not ticket price was a common complaint. But what we need with the IFBB GP is an event like the Arnold Classic in the USA - I accept it will need to be on a smaller scale, but make it a great annual get together of bodybuilders and the fans with everybody in bodybuilding suppliers of clothing, supplements, gym equipment etc having a stand. At the Expo assodated with this years Arnold Classic, I understand that there were 500 exhibitors and the displays included martial arts, etc. Not only that, but most of the top bodybuilders in the USA were there even if they were not competing - they were manning the stands of there sponsors and potential sponsors. So fans got the chance to talk to their own favourites.
The Expo was in a hall 20 mins walk from the hall used for the contest which pulled an audience of 4000. All too often at many bodybuilding contests there is a short time seeing the top physiques on stage and an awful lot of time getting bored out of your tits waiting for something to happen; we will ignore extended intervals when the show is already behind schedule. Get people to the event by giving them lots of things to see and do. Make it worthwhile then for exhibitors to spend money being there - they can expect some good business and new potential business.

Another problem is the increasing tendency for all contests to come along at the same time - NABBA in spring and EFBB in the autumn. At about the time of the EFBB GP, I went to the EFBB Exeter Qualifier, the NABBA England, Doncaster, the EFBB Finals, Nottingham, the EPF Britain, Halesowen and the Stars of Tomorrow in Hayes. At all of these events we had competitors from our gym on stage and will always try to go to every contest where someone from the gym is competing - this will be priority. As said previously, competitors should get the maximum of support and this starts at home in our own Gym.

Somewhere in the middle of all of these contests was the EFBB GP and to go I would have had to pay for fuel for another 500 mile drive plus an expensive ticket - and others in the gym who had also been to most of the same shows had to say cost was a factor. But the fundamental problem is all these show coming along at the some time. l know the reasons - competitors want to get into condition for an area show and then to go on to the finals without having to bulk up and diet down twice. So we get NABBA in the spring and EFFBB in the autumn. But it the shows were spread through the year, more people would be inclined to go to watch more shows. As I write this we are in April and I have been to no shows so far this year. In the next two weeks, we will be starting on another round beginning with the NABBA South Britain, the EFBB SE, the EPF Euro Qualifier, the NABBA Britain, etc. And we have got some competitors in powerlifting contests - The British Championships - which we will be attending in May. Two of our Power Lifters are already qualified for the World Championships.

Top Bodybuilders do not get what they deserve for their efforts and their achievements but they have every right to expect the best possible treatment from the various bodybuilding organisations. It seems that to hope to make money from bodybuilding you have to become an IFBB Pro. As far as I can see, this means that you get a Pro Card which allows you to compete in Pro contests for money prizes. But the IFBB does not pay any money to these professionals yet they believe that they have the right to dictate what someone will do to earn his living.

You should not be allowed to give someone a piece of paper with no money attached and then tell him he cannot go to another organisations shows as a star and get some money. They did this to Shawn Davies a year or two ago awarding him an immediate suspension until he apologized. It is quite wrong. The card should be no more than a licence to enter lFBB, EFBB Pro contests. What the man does outside of that is his own affair. The officials involved should realise that without the bodybuilders they have no job at all.

So the present situation is unsatisfactory. With the things that are going on it is bound to be unsatisfactory. I hope that something can be done but when I see the same officials entrenched in their positions and attitudes for year after year, I find it difficult to be optimistic. What do you think? Have you personal experiences which you would like to tell us about - anonymously, If you feel happier that way. Drop us a line. I am sure I am not the only one who has concerns.




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