’Bodybuilding is legitimate, competitive sport’
“It is something that requires physical hardship and activity to achieve an accomplishment in front of spectators, and ultimately gives them a certain satisfaction,” said Kim Seong-jun, a 14-year bodybuilding veteran, upon being asked what he thought defines a sport.
And for that reason, does Kim consider bodybuilding a legitimate sport fitting that definition?
“Yes I do. We are just unpopular. All of my colleagues will agree that bodybuilding is a sport,” said the 30-year-old.
Though few are aware, the Korea Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation (KBBF) is under the supervision of and deemed a legitimate sport by the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC). The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) has recognized bodybuilding as a sport since 2002, and it featured in the 2002 Busan and 2006 Doha Asian Games.
But it wasn’t featured in Guangzhou in 2010 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not recognize it as a legitimate sport, excluding it from the 2012 London Olympics. The ambiguous status on the world stage has been controversial since the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness attempted to secure its inclusion in 2000, which was accepted by the IOC that year. But the IOC canceled it at the last minute before the Sydney Olympics that year.
During the preparations for the 2002 Busan Asian Games, the KOC and officials invited bodybuilders to attend the National Training Center in Taeneung, northern Seoul along with other competitors. The bodybuilders refused, as each athlete, unlike other sports, required very specific needs and routines. They rented apartments in the vicinity instead, where each of the participants trained according to their own regime.
One aspect of sports is teamwork, even for the individual and singles category of a particular sport that requires training partners and coaches. In and out of the game, sports must exemplify human cooperation, and many believe it essential to what makes certain physical activities deemed a sport.
Kim admits that bodybuilding is very self-centered, going as far as calling it “selfish.”
“It can’t be helped. For us, it is not just making muscles bigger as well as increasing skills and fitness. Ultimately we have to show through presentation, which is different from other sports. Each person has a different type of build and frame that requires different exercises and food,” he said.
Another veteran bodybuilder, who declined to be named, uses the words “individualism and expression” instead. According to him, in the 1980s when he was an active competitor the words “bodybuilding” and “body beauty” were practically synonyms.
“Back than we had art professors, architects and those in the humanities judging us in competitions. We are much like gymnastics or figure skating, where there is certain subjectivity in the judging process. They are in competitions as well and have artistic elements like us,” he said.
Chang Yong-chan, the promotional head of the KBBF, admits that was in vogue in previous years, before the new millennium, but strongly asserts that those days are gone.
“Since we parted from the Korea Weightlifting Federation (KWF) in 1987, we have had our own individual development and have grown rapidly,” he said. “Sport is an exercise that can be judged by an objective criterion. Bodybuilders have that now.”
Chang went on to say that though the judging process in a bodybuilding competition may seem very subjective to the uninitiated, they are actually under “strict regulations” to score points for each muscle group. The judging of each group, such as triceps or abdomen, is based on “balance and bulk proportionate to the height and weight of the competitor.”
“We have been strongly pushing for the discipline to be included in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. Recent exclusions from certain Games are not because there is an issue of whether bodybuilding is a sport or not. Rather it is because the events for a certain Games are based on the host country’s interests in opening up sports that will help them acquire more medals,” he added.
The debate will no doubt continue alongside evolution and changes in the future and will likely never end as long as people continue to love and cherish certain sports over others.