The Long Road to Glory
By Ben Weider - April 1998
On January 30, 1998, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave full IOC recognition to the IFBB. This monumental step forward for the bodybuilding movement was due to the drive and perseverance of IFBB President Ben Weider, who never gave up and never wavered in his self - imposed mission to bring bodybuilding into the Olympic family. Ben's dream of IOC recognition goes back to 1946, and this is the inspiring story of how he turned that dream into a reality. This article is from Flex Magazine, May 1998.
I was fast asleep on the morning of the 30th of January, when sometime around 3am, I received a telephone call from Nagano, Japan, informing me that the IFBB had been granted official IOC (International Olympic Committee) recognition and that bodybuilding was now a sport to be respected the same as other sports.
Immediately, I phoned my brother, Joe, and my son, Eric, both in the Los Angeles area. Since it was midnight their time, my call awakened them, as well, but they were both thrilled. The three of us were unable to go back to sleep that night.
The call from Japan was totally unexpected. I had understood that, because of the vast amount of activities that faced the IOC executives during the Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, they would not have time to evaluate the of the IFBB, so, when I received this news, I immediately took off and flew to cloud nine, no airplane needed.
I am still on cloud nine. I cannot believe that after 53 years of work, "the impossible dream" became a reality. Back in 1946, Joe and I made a solemn pact. We agreed that we would not stop working and we would do everything to bring bodybuilding to the highest level, including official IOC recognition. At the time, we have no idea it would take 52 years.
In early 1946, Joe and I organized the first Mr. Canada Contest at the Monument of National Theater in Montreal. At that time, the AAU controlled bodybuilding, not only in America but in Canada as well, through the Weight Lifting Federation. Although we had asked for and received a permit from the AAU to organize the contest, on the night of the contest, their Canadian representatives, Charlie Walker and Harvey Hill, arrived and threatened the bodybuilders that they would be expelled from the AAU if they participated. The reaction of Bob Hoffman and the International Weight Lifting Federation was aggressive and mean. They did everything to try to destroy and humiliate us. That's when Joe and I decided to organize our own federation and not be under the control of the AAU.
Our initial aims for the IFBB were merely to organize a National Canadian Bodybuilding Federation and collaborate with America. That is as far as our thought process went. It was during the next couple of years that we decided to expand throughout the world. We presently have 169 countries as members and are one of the strongest international sports federations.
The first milestone in the development of the IFBB occurred in 1966, when Oscar State, who was the general secretary of the International Weight Lifting Federation and one of the world's most respected sports administrators, told me that, in order to obtain respect and growth, we had to become an official federation with a proper democratic constitution like all other federations. This was done, and in early 1969, we joined the General Association of International Sport Federations (GAISF), which made the IFBB the only international sport federation to control bodybuilding.
In the early 1970's, the International Weight Lifting Federation dropped the organization of bodybuilding competitions. The IFBB took over those national federations to wanted to continue organizing bodybuilding competitions. In the mid 1970's, the IFBB participated in the World Games, which are constituted by non-Olympic sport federations and have the approval and acceptance of the International Olympic Committee.
In 1978, Oscar State and I had lunch with the Lord Killanin, IOC president at the time, in Lausanne, Switzerland, location of the IOC headquarters. When we asked the Lord Killanin about the possibility of obtaining IOC recognition, he responded with his now famous words, "Over my dead body."
No one man, however, could curtail the momentum the IFBB had gathered at that point, for the rest of the world was beginning to join our cause. During the Cold Was, I was able to visit countries such as the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Traveling to those countries and convincing their Olympic officials to accept bodybuilding as an Olympic sport was a very difficult task, besides being highly sensitive politically; but, with time, I successes.
When apartheid was in full force in South Africa, that country's Minister of Sport and Culture, Dr. Piet Koornhof, agreed to allow black bodybuilders to compete in the 1975 World Championships and the Mr. Olympia contest, which too place that year in Pretoria, South Africa. He also allowed them to stay at the same hotels as the white athletes and to eat in the same restaurants. This was the first multiracial event South Africa ever had, and it led to allowing black athletes to be recommended as "athletes of the year". I felt very proud and happy to have achieved this major breakthrough.
In my efforts to bring the great vast country of China into the IFBB, I met with the Chinese Olympic officials and members of the Sport Federation. After several visits to China in the late '70s and early '80s, they agreed to allow a bodybuilding federation to be organized. Bodybuilding immediately caught on, and we received great press coverage. Once the male bodybuilding competitions were accepted, I worked diligently in convincing the officials that women's bodybuilding should also be part of the program. They agreed.
Today, both men and women participate in bodybuilding in China on a regular basis, and in 1994, Shanghai was the site of the World Amateur Bodybuilding Championships.
IOC recognition for the IFBB has been a long, hard road that called upon my deepest resources and commitment. I have met with President Juan Antonio Samaranch on a personal basis at least eight times in order to lobby for the IFBB cause, and both I and my Executive Assistant Rafael Santonja continually supplied President Samaranch with documents and information about our sport. Certainly, President Samaranch was influenced when he attended the first bodybuilding contest of his career at the 1997 World Games in Lahti, Finland. After witnessing the contest, he expressed to me how impressed he was with the bodybuilders, the sacrifices they make during their training, and the results they obtain.
Other friends and associates have given their all, as well:
Joe Weider - Have gave me financial and moral support, he guided me with his advice and continuously encouraged me. Joe played the most important role in this effort to obtain IOC recognition.
Oscar State - He rewrote the constitution of the IFBB, helped make the IFBB a democratically run federation like all the others, and he helped lobby top IOC officials. It is sad that he did not live top see the official recognition of the IFBB, as this was his dream as well.
Rafael Santonja - A very critical player in this recognition, Santonja traveled all over South and Central America to lobby all of the presidents and IOC members of the region. In over 10 years, he never stopped lobbying IOC and Olympic officials. In addition, he solved problems in numerous countries around the world.
Pamela Kagan - As Executive Director of the IFBB, she is the glue that holds the IFBB together by solving problems and replying to correspondence within 24 hours of receiving it.
Kim Nam Hak of Korea and Paul Chua of Singapore - These two gentlemen played crucial roles in Asia in order to get us recognized by the Olympic Council of Asia, which enabled us to participate in the South East Asian Games and the Asian Games. This permitted over 20 Asian National Olympic Committees to recognize our sport and, therefore, played an important role in influencing the IOC.
Along the way, we encountered much resistance, but I did not allow the naysayers to influence me. I knew that these people were not real supporters of bodybuilding, as their main goal was to humiliate me, Joe and the IFBB. However, the more they tried to humiliate me, the harder I worked, and their efforts only served to motivate me even more to achieve IOC recognition. I felt content with the fantastic support I had from Joe, Rafael Santonja, Pamela Kagan, Kim Nam Hak, Paul Chua and other IFBB officials.
As great an achievement as this is, it is only another step. My job is never done. We will now strengthen our doping rules even more, and I will continue the struggle until we participate actively in the Olympic Games. On January 2, 1998, Prof. Dr. Eduardo Henrique De Rose, who is president of the International Sports Medicine Association, as well as a high official of the IOC Doping Committee, wrote to Prince Alexander de Merode, who is the IOC vice president and chairman of the IOC Medical Commission, regarding a report about the IFBB's efforts to eradicate drugs from bodybuilding, wherein he states:
"After I attended two World Championships and one additional competition held by the IFBB, I was extremely pleased an satisfied by the professional and scientific way they handled their doping program. Their doping team was, in any occasion, the best professionals available in the area."
I am just as excited and energized to work toward our next step, which is to obtain demonstration sport status at the next Olympic Games, to be held in Australia in the year 2000, or the following Summer Olympic Games to be held in Greece in 2004.
While this is another separate road to be followed, my hopes and aims for the bodybuilders have been realized. My main desire was to see that bodybuilders were respected on the same level as all other athletes in all sports. This had now been achieved. My final goal now is to obtain Olympic participation. This, too will happen.