Bodybuilding, Weightlifting, & Powerlifting

by Abdullah Qazi / February 20, 2011
Last updated: May 28, 2013

 A Brief Introduction | Key Members of Bodybuilding Federation | Historical Facts

A Brief Introduction

Bodybuilding, weightlifting and power lifting are very popular in Afghanistan. It’s not uncommon to find the greats of bodybuilding such as Arnold Schwarzenegger plastered all over the walls of a body building club in Afghanistan. Afghan admire him as he is admired in the west.

Before the Taliban took control of Kabul, the sport was slowly developing, even though the majority of the athletes did not have adequate equipment to train on. Many resorted to using making their own equipment out of scraps of metal, tires, and filling oil drums with cement to make barbells. Still, many Afghans were free to pursue the sport. In 1993, tragedy struck the sport as a plane carrying the national bodybuilding team crashed in Mazar-e-Sharif, killing all 12 team members. A few years later, things got even worse when the Taliban came on the scene, because the sport was almost killed off. The Taliban would not allow men to pose in shorts as it is common in bodybuilding competitions, and they saw it as a waste of time – as they did most if not all sports. Women were of course not allowed to participate in any type of sports, especially bodybuilding. One event put together during the Taliban rule by Bawar Khan Hotak, a well known former wrestler and what many regard as the “father of modern day Afghan bodybuilding”, ended up going badly as the Taliban put Hotak in jail. They interpreted fan appreciation and praise of the bodybuilders as idol worshipping.

Today, according to the Afghan National Bodybuilding Federation (ANBBF), which was created in 1965, there are more than 1,000 gyms nationwide all over the country. There is even an annual Mr. Afghanistan competition that is held and while there is still much more development that needs to happen, Afghan bodybuilders aren’t doing that bad in international competitions. While it’s dominated by men, there are women who participate in the sport now as well, and they are more than a dozen women only gyms. On August 2008, the first female weightlifting competition was held in Kabul. While most if not all Afghan bodybuilders still have day jobs, as it is hard to make a living of the sport as it done in the West, many more are looking for private sponsors. Unfortunately, not much funding is provided by the government.

Just like in the West, illegal supplements and steroids are also present in Afghanistan. In June 2010, reports came out that Mohammad Arif Sakhi, the 2010 Mr. Afghanistan had died as result steroids destroying his organs. However, Bawar Khan Hotak, has said Sakhi’s death is not related to steroids, and instead told the media that he was poisoned by rivals. Hotak does however agree that there are many Afghan bodybuilders who do cheat and use steroids and illegal supplements and many of these supplements come from unreliable sources. Sakhi’s death has put a spotlight on the use of steroids by Afghan bodybuilders. Hopefully, the government gets more involved and implements a testing system and informs athletes on the harmful effects of steroids. Steroid use is something the West has been trying to deal with for quite some time, and now as the sport develops in Afghanistan and as the stakes are increased, Afghans will need to deal with it as well.

Key Members of Afghanistan’s National Bodybuilding Federation (ANBBF)

Bawar Khan Hotak
President of ANBBF
Zubairullah Mohsin
Secretary-General of ANBBF

Historical Facts

  • 1965: Afghan National Bodybuilding Federation (ANBBF) was created.
  • 1993: A plane carrying Afghanistan’s national bodybuilding team crashed in Mazar-e-Sharif, killing all 12 team members
  • 2004: Controversy erupts after the Mr. Afghanistan competition – title remains vacant.
  • 2005: Khosraw Basheri won Mr. Afghanistan competition.
  • 2006: Aziz Ahamd Nikyar won Mr. Afghanistan competition.
  • 2007: Bodybuilding club for women was inaugurated in Parwan province.
  • 2007: Dr. Tamim won Mr. Afghanistan competition.
  • 2008: In late August, the first female weightlifting competition was held in Kabul.
  • 2008: Yasin Qaderi became the “Overall Champion of Afghanistan”.
  • 2009: Shukrullah Shakili won the Mr. Afghanistan competition.
  • 2010: Mohammad Arif Sakhi won the Mr. Afghanistan competition.
  • 2010 (June) – Mohammad Arif Sakhi – the winner of the 2010 Mr. Afghanistan competition died.
  • 2010: At the 7th South Asian Men’s Bodybuilding Championship in Katmandu, Nepal – Afghan bodybuilders won four silver and five bronze medals.
  • 2011 (June) – Afghan bodybuilding team wins the 8th South Asian Bodybuilding Championship.