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Salman Ahmed: Mr Musclemania remains an unknown hero in Pakistan

Updated Jul 30, 2016 12:50pm


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“Cricket players get all the limelight, while other sportsmen suffer due to lack of attention and financial support,” Ahmed says. — AFP
“Cricket players get all the limelight, while other sportsmen suffer due to lack of attention and financial support,” Ahmed says. — AFP

LAHORE: Salman Ahmed was alone in the crowd when he became the first Pakistani to win the Musclemania world bodybuilding title in Las Vegas last year, unable to afford an entourage of managers, coaches, promoters like his fellow competitors.

Now the 25-year-old is back in Pakistan and facing a choice: with no financial support from the government of his cricket-obsessed country and potential sponsors made skittish by its security issues, he must decide between giving up his glittering career or leaving home.

“A bodybuilder has no future in Pakistan,” he tells AFP during a workout at his gym in a low-income neighbourhood of the eastern city of Lahore.

The US Consulate has congratulated him on his historic win in the lightweight category at Musclemania, the world's premier natural bodybuilding contest. Even Pakistan's arch-rival India has been courting him by inviting him to speak at seminars in various cities.

But from Pakistani officials, he says, he has not heard a word.

“Cricket players get all the limelight, while other sportsmen suffer due to lack of attention and financial support,” Ahmed tells AFP.

Salman Ahmed excercises at his gym in Lahore. — AFP
Salman Ahmed excercises at his gym in Lahore. — AFP

“Nobody in the government cared to even send me a congratulatory message.

“He says he has had “some very lucrative offers” from European countries and the US to compete for them instead.

“But then I would have to leave my home and my country, and I would not be able to wave the Pakistani flag when I win.”

Selfies bulk up bodybuilding

Music pumps at the shabby, worn Body Shape Fitness Centre as mirrors reflect Ahmed and his protege, 21-year-old Hassan Butt, straining to lift weights so heavy that other gym-goers pause to gawk at them.

Bodybuilding is not a widely-practiced sport in Pakistan, though Butt -- himself a national champion who vows to follow Ahmed's path -- says its popularity is growing in the era of the selfie because young people like to post pictures of their muscles on Facebook.

He admits, however, that for some the motivations are shallow: many young men pay their $5 a month to come to the gym and take a selfie of their “workout” to send to female friends, then leave without lifting a single weight.

The sport's unpopularity has previously worked in Ahmed's favour: he initially applied for university as a cricket player but the competition was too stiff.

Salman Ahmed sits next to a selection of his awards as he speaks his home in Lahore.
Salman Ahmed sits next to a selection of his awards as he speaks his home in Lahore.

Unable to afford the fees on his own, he tried his luck in bodybuilding -- even then he was initially rejected, but after begging for a chance college authorities relented, warning he would have to bulk up.

Now he has a Masters in Human Resource Management from the University of Central Punjab but says starting salaries would pay only around $160 a month, while the proteins alone that he says he needs cost about $180.

He cannot count on financial support from his family -- his father became ill during his time in university and often he found himself working three jobs while studying to support relatives.

And sponsors, he says, run away when they hear the word “Pakistan” -- fearful of the country's security situation.

“They are too afraid to come here,” he says. “I tell them that Lahore is safe... but they do not believe.”

Currently he manages the gym, once owned by his late brother -- but the income it generates is hardly enough to pay the rent, much less support his training regime.

“It is a huge challenge,” he admits.

Raising the barbell

Ahmed began competing in local competitions through college and by 2014 was competing in Miami and Las Vegas.

After months of rigorous training, he took on some 600 bodybuilders from around the world at Musclemania last year with nothing but his own determination behind him.

“Koreans, Americans and European bodybuilders were in teams, they had managers and coaches and media promoters with them,” he says.

“I was alone there, a one-man team, and beat them all.”

Ahmed currently manages a gym, once owned by his late brother but the income it generates is hardly enough to pay the rent, much less support his training regime. — AFP
Ahmed currently manages a gym, once owned by his late brother but the income it generates is hardly enough to pay the rent, much less support his training regime. — AFP

His mother Sajida Yasin -- who, Ahmed says, can predict which bodybuilders will win just by looking at them, and knows all the details of his diet and exercise regime -- told AFP that she wept for joy after watching online from Lahore as her son lifted the trophy.

Now he has his sights set on winning the Musclemania Pro category, to be held in Miami in June.

There may yet be hope. Usman Anwar, head of the Punjab Sports Board, says the government had simply not been aware of Ahmed's achievement.

“Had we known that he was going to participate in the event we would not only have supported him, we would have encouraged him and provided him training and technical expertise and all the logistics also,” Anwar tells AFP.

The PSB has now called Ahmed and will meet him soon, he says, to hear his story and recommend financial support -- though the extent of that is yet unclear.

For Ahmed, decision time is approaching.

“I want to be on top of this field,” he says.

“Ultimately, I have to make a choice... But it is with a very heavy heart.”


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Comments (55) Closed

Imran Ahmed Jan 17, 2016 11:46am

Well done young man and congratulations to your mom! Follow your destiny wherever it takes you. I am surprised that a seth in the film business or in the higher education industry has not grasped the opportunity to sign you up.

Zhou Yuan Jan 17, 2016 11:49am

Salman Ahmed as you say "you have lucrative offers from EU & USA"you may avail those offer , and whenever you win in future,you will be called Pakistan Origin bodybuilder,like Amir Khan of UK is also Pakistan Origin.

drshafiq Jan 17, 2016 11:53am

If I were you I would have surely leave Pakistan & reside in a country where I can get more returns for being a bodybuilder. You can promote Sport related products & maybe start your own, once you establish your career in the sport industry. Pakistan government need more foreign revenue from overseas Pakistani, not musclemania or any other sport related individual which is lame in Pakistan.

sameer Jan 17, 2016 11:56am

Great achievement, really proud of you Mr. Salman Ahmed. If I know about your achievement very far from your home town, how it is possible that Jati Umra is not knowing it. The government is focusing on corruption and how to increase their bank balances, so all the population of Pakistan is invisible to them, only thing visible is $. I would rather put responsibility on people including myself, remaining silent is also like supporting the suppressor, don't know when we shall wake-up from the deep sleep. In history the revolution started from the common people, never from the rich and powerful, need a trigger to wake them up.

Naveed Jan 17, 2016 12:00pm

The sports players all over the world are driven by passion not by government funding and encouragement. He should start his own world class gym and train potential people. Crying about government help is just irrelevant to his sports and monetary passion. There should be a network of sports organizations that should sponsor people like him to go and compete internationally.

Abdulla Hussain Jan 17, 2016 12:05pm

This is a real neglect. When will the government realize its responsibility towards sports. This is a matter of serious concern, the government / big organisation should immediately help this achiever to bring more glories to Pakistan. Do we really have a sports ministry in Pakistan?

SHAH Jan 17, 2016 12:16pm

How the hero of the nation is neglected!

nelson Jan 17, 2016 12:23pm

I am an Indian having seen his video on youtube forwarded the same to Mr. Imran Khan twitter to help this man accomplish his dream and a boost to Pakistan as a nation. I believe it will boost Mr.Imran khan PTI image in the sporting field and general populace.

Asif Jamil Jan 17, 2016 12:25pm

This is typical of the attitude of authorities towards other sports in Pakistan. Real shame.

Romeo Jan 17, 2016 12:30pm

Usman Anwar, head of the Punjab Sports Board, says the government had simply not been aware of Ahmed's achievement......what a sham statement from such a high profile officials. Its a shame that these people at the top of the helm don't feel it and disregard sports personality's achievement worldwide. I will advise Mr. Salman Ahmed to move abroad and settle there if you have an opportunity. People over there will give you the honor and respect that you duly deserve which is missing in country of your birth. No regrets whatsoever

Shahzad Jan 17, 2016 12:38pm

Please confirm his win as I cannot find any news about his being world champion other than in Pakistani news papers.

Ali Mirza Jan 17, 2016 01:10pm

Our government is busy looting Pakistan and its citizens.

uma Jan 17, 2016 01:21pm

IK should work on it!

M.Saeed Jan 17, 2016 01:45pm

Most unfortunate hero that even the Government is not interested in accepting!

Philosopher (from Japan) Jan 17, 2016 02:39pm

Invisible hero. We proud you.

Bader Jan 17, 2016 03:22pm

Dont' hang around for too long. Make your move. Hundreds of athletes from Africa have moved to Europe and USA for the same reason. You will still be known as a Pakistani no matter where you are. Do not waste any time but choose your option wisely as you seem to have many of these.

Bader Jan 17, 2016 03:24pm

@uma What's in it for IK?

Tania Ali Jan 17, 2016 04:37pm

I appeal to the Army Chief and corps commander Lahore to induct Salman Ahmed as a physical training officer to train Pakistan army body builders. He should have free body building diet and represent army in national competitions and Pakistan in international competitions.

aslam shaikh Jan 17, 2016 04:38pm

He can be easily hired by any leading club in Lahore. He should approach them and can easily get a 100,000+ salary.

Pervert Caretti Jan 17, 2016 04:47pm

No sweat! Now you will get all the attention you deserve. Master has spoken.

Tamilselvan Jan 17, 2016 04:56pm

Congratulations .from India, young man. Will support you for your efforts. Entrepreneurs in India are willing to support talent wherever they are from. Send us the details and we'll help you.

XPakistani Jan 17, 2016 06:04pm

Looks like a Rocky IV story, but this time it is a real one not a fantasy played on the movie screen.

Irfan ahmad Jan 17, 2016 06:13pm

@Tamilselvan mostly comments don't tell how to fix the issue Salman is facing. As Pakistanis we should try and come up with bringing salaman to the limelight and moreover getting some funds flow his way. One would be using Internet / cyber media help.

khanm Jan 17, 2016 06:28pm

Our Arnold Schwarzenegger... Please dont be disheartened our government will never help you cos they are too busy building their own muscles....Pal ...The resistance that you fight physically in the gym and the resistance that you fight in life can only build a strong character.... you keep that and treasure it... and our government will treasure nothing but wealth for themselves...

Ashutosh Mishra Jan 17, 2016 06:30pm

May he find support for his passion. He is a nice boy. India sports ministry or numerous business houses should sponsor him. There is no shame in this. He must accept it too. We are one in so many ways, share history and much else...

Canada Jan 17, 2016 06:41pm

He should definitely go to the US, they have that best gyms equipment, nutrition, nutritionists, coaches, trainers, supplements etc you name it. Even Europeans go to California. If he achieved results in a run down gym with little money he has potential. However I will say bodybuilding is a very costly sport/hobby where the chances of being sponsored and winning are very very very slim, less then 1%.

Cyrus Jan 17, 2016 07:10pm

DON'T WAIT !!!! Head for Hollywood to met with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Save yourself.

Zak Jan 17, 2016 08:07pm

PTI should support him for Pakistan. IK aporeciated sports and the achievements.

Zak Jan 17, 2016 08:10pm

@Zhou Yuan

“But then I would have to leave my home and my country, and I would not be able to wave the Pakistani flag when I win.”

Zak Jan 17, 2016 08:11pm

Shabaz sharif are you listening- there is no money in it for you- but there is prestige for Pakistan, or does that not matter for you.

K Jan 17, 2016 08:13pm

Punjab Sports Board has 1 Job to find the talented sportsman and help them grove and support them and yet they were unaware...Why not Mr. Anwar of PSB resign due the shame....

Zak Jan 17, 2016 08:17pm

The new Pakistan rising. Competing with the best and winning, that is the new Pakistan.

Ahsan Gul Jan 17, 2016 08:28pm

Congratulations!! Mr. Ahmed. In pakistan you right only cricket game gets attention as it is lucrative for both players and managers. I just visit Pakistan and saw human slavery and human degradation. The best alternative for you is to leave and make home in a country where your talents are appreciated. For a Muslim the whole world is home. Best of luck.

vrpatil Jan 17, 2016 10:58pm

Military or Police departments should think of promoting such extraordinary performers.

Nasiroski Jan 17, 2016 11:05pm

Take the offers because the deaf dumb and mute Pakistani official have no value of talent/merit, because they are void of them.

Najam Jan 18, 2016 12:38am

Only if you had been son of some political elite -your name would have been written in history with gold. But atlas, a person, even if a hero, unless s/he falls above a certain privilege level, wouldn't be recognized by the government of any value.

kuttathi Jan 18, 2016 01:03am

Congratulations Ahmed on your success.Very sad to see that Pakistan is not supporting this national hero of theirs.Talents like this will bring glory and will change the image of the country.Isn't there a sports minister whom he can contact? Or some NGOs who can sponsor him?He should give an appeal to Mr Navaz Shariff directly or through IK.

Tariq Jan 18, 2016 02:13am

We would love to sponsor this athelete

N K Ali Jan 18, 2016 03:53am

Go Salman Ahmad.......GO! Broaden your horizon and see the world. Meet new people and learn about different cultures and traditions. You will be able to better help people and yourself. It's nice to be nostalgic but not EMOTIONAL. it's all about ADAPTATION. Salams

Omran Jan 18, 2016 04:38am

Please go and apply for immigration to Canada or Australia as many talented Pakistanis are playing on international level for these countries as they give them due support and appreciate their talent, don't wait for this Government to help you, they will just make promises and you will loose time....

Reason Jan 18, 2016 04:49am

I saw his video on his FB page expressing disappointment months ago. No media outlet in Pakistan bothered to give him a bit of space and exposure. I wonder why Now? better late than never though.

kirther Jan 18, 2016 05:13am

Pakistanis should develop a club to support talented young folks as governments in Pakistan are least bothered human development, they would rather spend more money on themselves rather than facilitating young and gifted people.

Karachi Wala Jan 18, 2016 06:57am

Great milestone Congratulations to you Salman, We are proud of you

Manmohan Jan 18, 2016 08:16am

Govt should give him honor jobs so that he can get sufficient money for his livelihood. Also he can open some coaching center to train young talent.

Indian Jan 18, 2016 09:52am

Even Pakistan's arch-rival India has been courting him by inviting him to speak at seminars in various cities.

This should be enough to open eyes of those Pakistanis who blame India for intolerance.

@Salman Ahmed

You are welcome to India! IMO, if you have a good opportunity anywhere in this world then you should go for it.

Best of luck :)

Faraz Jan 18, 2016 11:46am

Great achievement. God Speed brother

Gaurav Arya Jan 18, 2016 12:16pm

The spirit of this young man is worthy of respect.

m@k Jan 18, 2016 02:16pm

Thank you Dawn keep us posted on promises of Punjab Sports Board...

In worst case scenario i think we can help this gentlemen through crowd funding to at least enable him to compete for the June championship...

After all its about the soft side of Pakistan...!

Khwarezmi Jan 18, 2016 02:18pm

"Talent goes where the money is". He should have taken those offers from US. Being famous in US = being famous all over the world. Boxer Amir Khan from UK is refered as Pakistani origin and we are all proud of his achievements.

Arif Jan 18, 2016 10:30pm

He is our hero and we should support him and body building in our country for health purposes as well. Open more gyms, fund more coaches and machines.

Al Karim Jan 19, 2016 03:44am

Normally, I do not comment in Hindi, but there is no equivalent for this adage: Ghar ki murghi daal barabar. Salman bhai, when you come to Florida in June, you have a home and a family here. Welcome. You can obtain my e-mail address from the moderators.

Al Karim Jan 19, 2016 03:48am

Salman Ahmed has naturally built his body unlike his namesake. Mr. Ahmed reminds me of Frank Zane, a great bodybuilder.

haider Jan 19, 2016 07:15am

CM punjab should make a orange line station in front of his home

Shdhsn Jan 19, 2016 07:24am

Stop crying over cricket being in the limelight. This champ deserve limelight in parallel to other supports. Pakistan government should honor him and take care of this young fellow, because of him Pakistan's green and white flag was up his in LV.

Talha Jan 19, 2016 11:27am

Leave Pakistan, this is what Amir Khan did for his betterment. When we elect such corrupt politicians then this is what we will reap for our future generations.