Dubai hosts drug-free bodybuilding competition

All competitors of this weekend’s International Natural Bodybuilding Association in Dubai Sports City must undergo blood tests to ensure they are not using steroids or human growth hormones.

Luca Bottino, an Italian restaurant manager and first-time competitor who lives in Dubai, gives blood ahead of the International Natural Bodybuilding Association championships. Antonie Robertson/The National
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DUBAI // Organisers of the country’s first drug-free bodybuilding competition believe it represents a turning point in the sport.

It is no secret that drugs such as steroids and human-growth hormone are accessible and used, despite the UAE’s strict laws.

But competitors at the International Natural Bodybuilding Association championships, being held in Dubai Sports City today, must undergo blood tests.

All winners and any competitors suspected of using drugs will be tested, and if they fail will be placed in a “hall of shame” on the association’s website and will be banned for life.

Bassem Jawhari, the association’s Middle East president, said: “This is good for people who want to compete clean and in an environment where people aren’t using drugs. It makes sure the competition is a more even playing field. It’s also good for the young generation to see that you can achieve your goals naturally, without using drugs.”

About 400 men and women from around the world are competing in today’s competition, across categories that range from physique to bikini, bodybuilding to physically challenged, with amateur and professional shows taking place.

The California-based association now has 50 member countries, 40 of whom are represented at today’s competition.

Its founder and president, Denny Kakos, wants the sport to be part of the Olympics, which is why he has ll blood samples sent to the World Anti Doping Association in the United States, where they are tested for performance-enhancing drugs.

The Saudi German Hospital in Dubai will also test urine samples for 12 factors, including amphetamines, barbiturates and morphine.

Mr Kakos admitted there would always be athletes who slipped through the net as drugs get more complex and harder to detect.

He said last year Dh220,000 was spent on drug testing by the association.

Random testing is also carried out on competitors in and out of competition season to ensure the athletes are not clean only for the show’s tests.

Competitor Isaac Pfedi, 30, a Ghanaian who lives in Abu Dhabi, is taking part in his second show, having competed in the capital once before.

“It feels good to be in a competition that’s drug tested. There’s a sense of achievement,” said Mr Pfedi, who works as a personal trainer.

“Drug use isn’t good at all and drug testing really motivates people not using drugs to compete in a fair way. Drug use is very common in the UAE. Something has to be done about it.”

Luca Bottino, 35, an Italian restaurant manager and first-time competitor who lives in Dubai, said: “Of course you see people using drugs here.

“But this competition shows that you can achieve something without the use of drugs and sets a great example.”

Serene Ghandour, 35, will step on to the stage for the first time in the bikini category, fulfilling a dream she has had since she was 18.

The Palestinian personal trainer who has survived two bouts of cancer, said: “It’s great there’s a competition that is drug free, so that people like me can compete knowing it’s a drug-free environment, rather than me being the only one not using drugs.”