|Getbig Interview: Ben Weider
BodybuildingPro.com Articles Database Articles by Writer Articles & Interviews from GetBig.com Ben Weider
For over fifty-five years Ben and Joe Weider have arguably been the world leaders in promoting the benefits of exercise to millions of people worldwide. While his brother Joe focused on creating the magazines, the fitness equipment, and sports nutrition industries, Ben concentrated on developing the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB). Ben is the founder, very first, and current President of the IFBB, which has 172 countries as members and is the 6th largest amateur sports federation in the world.
Ben, the third child of Louis and Annie Weider, was born 1 February 1924, and lived the early years of his life on Coloniale Ave in Montreal, Canada.
In order to help out his family, Ben left public school in the seventh grade to work in a restaurant, working twelve hours a day, six days a week for $2.50-a week. Hard work helped to instill discipline in Ben, however, he still maintained a happy-go-lucky attitude and during his time off from work he enjoyed dancing, boxing, and socializing.
In 1942, at the age of 18, Ben enlisted in the Canadian Army. He served for three years in Army intelligence and upon discharge, returned to Montreal. In 1940 Joe launched the Weider magazine business and he requested that Ben join him with the business. Their efforts led to the development of the Weider health and fitness empire.
In the early 1940's, when the Weider's first advocated the use of vitamins and nutritional supplements, they consistently faced the ridicule of medical doctors who thought the idea of taking nutritional supplements was foolish. They also received a tremendous amount of criticism for promoting the positive benefits of strength training.
During this time, doctors were concerned that people who exercise would get an "athlete's heart." The connotation of this was that an athlete's heart was a negative thing, which would lead to sickness and early death. However, today it is known that an athlete's heart is the best type to have.
Coaches also felt that training would make the athlete muscle bound and, therefore, lose their agility and capacity to participate in sports. Today we know that all athletes in all sports routinely perform bodybuilding exercises in order to increase their strength and improve their sports performance.
Today the food supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar a year business and it's estimated that the Weider's control twenty five percent of this business.
During the last few months, I spent time with Ben and this interview covers topics ranging from the history of the IFBB, fighting apartheid through bodybuilding, the fitness bodybuilder, his involvement with the International Napoleonic Society, and finally the future of bodybuilding.
Ben Weider, interviewed by Rob Wilkins.
- Why did you and Joe decide to start the IFBB and how did you come up with the name?
Joe and I founded the IFBB in 1946. We did this because the American Athletic Union (AAU), who controlled bodybuilding in Canada at the time decided at the last minute to pull a sanction and threatened to blackball any athlete who participated in our competition. This was at the behest of Bob Hoffman. We were so upset that we formed our own Federation.
- When was the first IFBB competition and where was it held (how many athletes were involved, how many fans attended the competition, how much did the tickets cost)?
The first competition was held in 1946 in Montreal, Canada. Approximately 60 athletes participated, the theatre was packed with 1,200 people and it was organized at the National Cultural French Canadian Centre. Tickets cost $2.50
- Since there were already established bodybuilding organizations, how did you persuade other countries to change their alliance and join the IFBB?
It was through dedication, devotion and passion, and the supply of detailed information that gradually allowed other Federations that existed around the world to join the IFBB.
- What were some of your major obstacles?
There were 2 major obstacles. The first one was NABBA. Eventually, we were able to break their control of bodybuilding, based on the fact that they organized a World Championships every year in London. Since their competitions were only held in London, this showed that they were not serious in regards to being an international Federation and, therefore, with time, other countries realized this and joined the IFBB. The other obstacle was that people did not accept bodybuilding as a sport. Again, we had to break down a lot of prejudice, but we succeeded.
- Like a prophet spreading the word of bodybuilding, how many countries have you visited during the past fifty-five years?
I have been to slightly over 100 countries in the past 55 years.
- In respect to the IFBB, what has been your biggest success and what has brought you the most disappointment?
The most difficult challenge I had was to get the IFBB recognized by the International Olympic Committee, pursuant to Rule 29 of the Olympic Charter.
The background of my efforts were as follows:
I had 6 meetings with Avery Brundage, the President of the IOC at the time, and he refused to grant bodybuilding recognition every time.
The Lord Killanin, who replaced Avery Brundage, also refused to recognize bodybuilding in at least 9 or 10 meetings that I had with him.
In fact, one evening I was at the same table with him, on a cruise on Lake Geneva, in Switzerland. The IOC had invited the Presidents of the International Sport Federations to join with the IOC officials. During the evening I asked The Lord Killanin if he would recognize bodybuilding. He said, "Sure, of course." He thereafter took a sip of his drink and said with a smile, "But over my dead body."
Convincing the Russians to join the IFBB was another difficult thing I have had to do. It took a minimum of 25 years of persistence and patience to get them to accept bodybuilding. In China, it was also extremely difficult, but much easier than in Russia.
Another problem was convincing all the Arab countries the importance of working in unison. At one time, they were argumentative amongst each other and not getting proper results. Through the hard work and the successful diplomatic efforts of many, I am proud to say we now have a cooperative and strong unified Arab Federation and its
headquarters is in Dubai.
- Baron Pierre de Cobbertin, founder of the modern Olympic games, designed the interlocking circles as a representation of the Olympic movement in 1913. The IFBB also has a symbol--a man and woman striking a muscular pose, which is recognized as the symbol of the IFBB and featured on such items as the official IFBB stationary, IFBB flags, etc. What is the history of this symbol? Are the two featured athletes anyone in particular?
The original IFBB crest had a male bodybuilder on it. It did not represent anybody in particular. As our sport progressed, and we included women bodybuilding, we wanted to give equal exposure to both men and women, and we, therefore, included the woman on the IFBB crest.
The design was completely changed and modernized and it is still being used today.
The 2-featured athletes do not represent anybody in particular.
- Regarding Bodybuilding and Drugs: For many years now, drugs have been one of the main issues in the sport of bodybuilding? Do you feel there is a problem with the use of performance enhancing drugs in bodybuilding? What is the IFBB doing to cut down on the number of athletes using drugs?
Drugs have been a problem for bodybuilders as it has been for all sports.
The IFBB follows the IOC anti-doping rules and we are making tremendous progress. All national Federations are obligated to test their athletes before they are allowed to compete. The results have been great. For example, on May 15th, I received a fax
from the Antidoping Centre, Moscow, Russia, stating that the laboratory had conducted 18 random doping tests to include the category winners and all tests came back negative. These results emphatically show that the IFBB is very serious in regards to following the IOC doping program and that we will remain diligent in implementing an effective doping control program.
The bottom line is that the "Get Tough" policy is being enforced by the IFBB and now starting to bear fruit.
- Regarding Fighting Apartheid through Sport: In 1975 the classic bodybuilding movie, "Pumping Iron" was filmed in South Africa, a country at the time under the system of apartheid. How were you able to convince the South African officials to treat the black athletes in the same manner as the whites?
One of my greatest achievements, which gave me enormous satisfaction, occurred in South Africa in 1975. The Minister in charge of sport and other portfolios, Dr. Piet Koornhof, was a bodybuilding fan and his dream was to organize a bodybuilding Championships and the Mr. Olympia competition in South Africa.
I informed Dr. Koornhof that I would like to organize this event in South Africa, but he had a big problem with regards to apartheid. He asked me what he could do to assure me that South Africa is worthy of this event. I told him that he must allow black athletes to participate, just like the white athletes. He agreed.
I thereafter told him that the athletes must stay in the same hotels like the white athletes. He also agreed. I then told him that the black athletes must eat in the same dining room and participate on the stage at the same time like the white athletes. He also said, "Yes," and gave me a letter to this effect.
The IFBB, therefore, organized the Mr. Olympia competition in 1975 and Arnold Schwarzenegger was the winner. Several black athletes placed in the amateur competitions.
I am extremely proud of the fact that I was the first to break through the unjust wall of apartheid in South Africa
- Regarding Women's Bodybuilding: As the President of the IFBB, what direction do you see female bodybuilding going in the future?
With regard to female bodybuilders, we are moving towards the fitness bodybuilder. A female bodybuilder who has an athletic physique but who could also demonstrate it in various fitness forms.
- Will a new judging criteria be established for the fitness bodybuilder? In regard to the women presently competing in the IFBB, what will be the most drastic change you envision they will encounter in regards to becoming a fitness bodybuilder?
The judging procedures for the fitness bodybuilder will be modified accordingly. The IFBB has published a new "IFBB Amateur Rules Fitness" book, which includes all the procedures for judging a fitness bodybuilding competition. It explains the routines that the women must do and the characteristics that the judges are looking for.
The proper posing routines are properly explained in the document.
- What led to the IFBB making this change?
We are making this change because we want to make women's bodybuilding more mainstream. It will interest a larger portion of the population, increase our sponsorship and increase the prize money for the women competitors. Most important, it will keep our women athletes healthy and this new look will help increase their potential for a number of endorsement contracts.
- Will this change help unify the women's IFBB pro division and eliminate the need to have two separate weight classes and two different Ms. Olympia's each year?
There will be a few modifications to the women's bodybuilding fitness rules that we are currently discussing and will implement. But for the most part, everything else will remain the same.
- The National Physique Committee (NPC) has recently created a new Figure division. Will the IFBB investigate the possibilities of developing a professional level figure division?
Eventually the IFBB will develop a professional level for figure women as well.
- Regarding Bodybuilding and the Olympics: To say the least, your first petition to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for recognition was not a success. Former IOC President Lord Killanin, commented, "Sure. But over my dead body." I guess at that time you knew your work was cut out for you. How did you react to such a discouraging response?
I have already replied to the question regarding my petition for International Olympic Committee. I do wish to add that the more they refused my request, the harder I worked. I did not let anyone deter me from my goal.
- In 1998 after more than 50 years of appealing to the IOC board, the IFBB was granted recognition status. What is the current status on obtaining final Olympic acceptance?
I am presently working on obtaining permanent recognition for the sport of bodybuilding from the International Olympic Committee and thereafter obtain participation status in the Olympic Games, which will be organized in Athens, Greece, in 2004.
- When the IFBB finally does receive permanent recognition, how will bodybuilders qualify for the Olympics? Who will select them? And finally, how long will their qualification status last for?
When the IFBB finally does receive permanent recognition and participation in the Olympic Games, the National Federations will still be responsible for the selection of the teams and the control over athletes who will compete. Bodybuilders will qualify for the national team by winning their national championships. However, before they are allowed to compete, they must pass a doping test by an IOC accredited laboratory.
- Throughout the years, you have had dozens of meetings with 3 IOC Presidents (Avery Brundage, Lord Killanin, and Juan Antonio Samaranch) and spent millions of your own dollars in quest of Olympic approval. What do you feel has been the biggest hurdle preventing bodybuilding from obtaining full and final Olympic acceptance?
The greatest hurdle in obtaining Olympic recognition was to explain the importance of bodybuilding as a sport. This took time but we overcame that negative perception.
The biggest hurdle in getting bodybuilding accepted as an Olympic sport has been the misconception that bodybuilders do not have any skills and do not participate in a sport. It took a long time for me to convince them that bodybuilders have many skills, even more than other athletes.
Some of the skills that they require are:
- Proper training, in order to build a symmetrical physique, in order that every part of the body is in unison with the rest.
- They have to learn how to eat sensibly, in order that they are in great shape for a competition.
- The final skill is that they were obligated to display their physique with music, in a coordinated presentation
- In your opinion, how does IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch view the sport of bodybuilding?
President Juan Antonio Samaranch, of the IOC, views bodybuilding in a very positive light, otherwise he would not have attended the European Championships, which were held in Lausanne, Switzerland, last year. As a matter of fact, it's due to President Samaranch's recommendation that we held our IFBB European Men's Championships in Lausanne.
- Regarding Napoleon: You are recognized worldwide as a leading authority on the Emperor Napoleon. What sparked your interest in him?
What sparked my interest in the Emperor Napoleon can be summed up in three words: "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity." I believe that there should be no discrimination whatsoever against people because of color, race, politics or religion.
Napoleon was such a person, and I believe in the same basic principles he did.
- As the President of the International Napoleonic Society, what are the goals of the society?
The goal of the International Napoleonic Society (INS) is to educate and inform people of the truth about the Emperor Napoleon. He was one of the most enlightened leaders of the world, and a man ahead of his time. For more information related to the INS, I encourage you to visit our web site at www.napoleonicsociety.com
- Recently, the media has covered the story on the controversial death of Napoleon and your investigations related to his death. For many years it was thought that Napoleon died from cancer. But after thirty years of thorough research and samples of Napoleon's hair, you proved he was murdered. How did you go about this investigation? Did you face major resistance from historians?
The investigation about proving that Napoleon died of poisoning and not of cancer was complicated, lengthy, and took a lot of research.
In the memoirs written by the people who shared the exile with Napoleon, they listed all of the symptoms that Napoleon suffered from. These symptoms had nothing to do with cancer, which was the official version of his death.
When comparing all of the symptoms that were described by the eyewitnesses that shared exile with Napoleon and comparing them with a list of symptoms of arsenic intoxication, both lists were identical. We, therefore, knew that Napoleon was poisoned, but to prove this, we had to make analysis of arsenic on Napoleon's hair, which confirmed my thesis that he was poisoned.
You basically have eyewitnesses, at the time, giving you the symptoms of Napoleon's illness, which are arsenic intoxication, and you have modern science confirming that this is so.
- On October 12, 2000, you received the highest Order in France, the French Legion of Honor, an award created by Napoleon Bonaparte on May 19, 1802. When you were notified that you had received this award, how did you feel and what does receiving this prestigious award mean to you?
Receiving the Legion of Honor medal, which Napoleon Bonaparte created, was a highlight in my life. Napoleon believed in "fraternity, liberty and equality," and so do I. This is why I have included in the IFBB Constitution the following paragraph:
"There will be no discussion or debates for political, racial, or religious reasons."
- Regarding the future of Bodybuilding: The IFBB presently has 172 members in its federation. How much more growth can occur and what do you see as the sport's biggest obstacles?
The biggest obstacle at the moment is getting bodybuilding to participate in the Olympic Games and the IFBB is working diligently to obtain this goal. More than 100 national Olympic committees recognize the IFBB and this list continues to increase. As far as growth, there is no limit on how large the IFBB can become.
- Do you feel the Internet will play a large role in the promotion of bodybuilding in the future?
The Internet plays a major role in promoting bodybuilding and making it more popular and acceptable to sport leaders in all countries. Each month, over 2.6 million people visit www.ifbb.com--the official web site of the IFBB.
- In the 70's and 80's, IFBB bodybuilding competitions routinely appeared on the major television networks. Will bodybuilding return to prime time TV in the near future? Has there been thought to providing IFBB competitions on pay per-view?
Bodybuilding still appears on television worldwide. The one-hour programs, like in the past, no longer exist but bodybuilding is shown regularly on television in over 100 countries.
We are working on a program to show the IFBB competitions on pay per view programs.
- Currently, of the 110 current IOC members, 33 have participated in Olympic Games and all commissions of the IOC have athletes as representatives. Will the IFBB consider following the IOC and create a board of its former competitors to address issues and concerns?
Our officials are people who have been involved in sports and are elected to the Executive Council. The IFBB does not appoint anyone to the Executive Council; they are all elected and recommended by their national Federations.
- What's left for you to do Ben? Do you have any goals or challenges left to conquer? Is retirement on the horizon for you?
Retirement is certainly not on the horizon for me. My job now is to assure strong leadership in the IFBB in order that when I resign, the Federation can continue to grow.
In 1975, Ben Weider received the highest award that can be bestowed upon a citizen of Canada - the Order of Canada in recognition of his longtime dedication and commitment towards improving the lifestyle of citizens throughout the world. As well as being an Order of Canada recipient, Weider is also a 1984 Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
For his efforts in raising worldwide fitness awareness for over 50 years, Weider was awarded the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a resident of the Province of Quebec-The Knight of the National Order of Quebec. At a ceremony in Quebec City, Canada, in April 2000, Lucien Bouchard, Premier of the Province of Quebec, presented him with the distinguished Order of Quebec.
Thanks to Ben's hard work, dedication and positive influence, the Sport Intern Newsletter, which is recognized throughout the world and is distributed to the International Olympic Committee officials and sport leaders, conducts a survey every year, in order to select the "200 Most Influential Sport Personalities in the World." Ben Weider placed 48th on the list, which is a major success. This shows the respect that the international sports community has for Ben Weider, the IFBB, and the sport of bodybuilding.
As the pioneers of the bodybuilding movement, the Weider brothers had a vision that bodybuilding would one day no longer be considered taboo and move out of cold, dark basements into opera halls. In 1965, Joe created the ultimate bodybuilding competition, the Mr. Olympia. Thirty-six years later the sport has experienced tremendous growth, evidenced by the fact that the Olympia is no longer a one-day competition but a three-day action-packed weekend held in Las Vegas, Nevada, one of the world's most famous and glamorous cities and Mr. Olympia prize money has gone from $1,000 to over $325,000.
Making impossible dreams come true has become normal for Ben Weider. With only a seventh grade education, he worked his way out of the ghettos of Montreal and along with his brother Joe, created a fitness empire valued at over half a billion dollars. He almost single handedly created the IFBB, a Federation that is strong enough and bold enough to challenge the unjust system of apartheid and win.
Fueled by Ben's unwavering passion, bodybuilding continues to grow and is now one of the most popular sports in the world.
About Rob Wilkins: Rob Wilkins is a Technical Sergeant in the US Air Force stationed at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. Wilkins is also an Assistant to International
Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) President, Ben Weider and a recent recipient
(Oct. "00) of the IFBB Gold Medal. To contact Rob, you can e-mail him at
Be sure to visit Ron's site: GetBig.com
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