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Iranian bodybuilders are feeling the weight of strained US-Iran relations

Many Iranian bodybuilders have denied the visas they need to compete at International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness events.

Iranian bodybuilders put a lot of effort into their diet and daily exercise to achieve the body they see fit. Although an athlete might have the genetics and the body to become the next champion, the government of Iran doesn’t take an active interest in the sport to support those athletes.

Over the past few years, the Iranian bodybuilders have been unable to join several bodybuilding events. Due to political conflict with the US, they have been denied visas, limiting their careers.

Annually, the bodybuilding community has many competitions around the world. The most popular competition, Mr. Olympia, was set to award more than 1.4 million dollars in prize money this year.

To qualify to compete in the Mr. Olympia an athlete has to participate in several preliminary events, internationally. 

Many Persian bodybuilders have struggles been set to compete for Mr. Olympia but were unable to due to issues with their visa, including Hadi Choopan.

Choopan qualified for Mr. Olympia for three consecutive years, but each time, his visa to travel to the US was denied. 

Prior to 2019, Choopan changed his coach and his team.  After the Vancouver pro show, he qualified again for Mr. Olympia, and once again, he tried to get a visa for the fourth time. But this time he had coaches who lived in America. In addition, he got more than 1000 signatures from bodybuilders in the US which he sent to the American embassy.

Three weeks before the event, there was little indication Choopan would make it. One Iranian reporter asked him to estimate his chances of participating in the event. Choopan said, “Just 10%.”

The US embassy issued him a visa one week before Mr.Olympia.

Choopan competed in Mr. Olympia 2019, placing third overall. 

He became a hero figure in Iran as bodybuilders all around the nation are now looking up to him. 

Choopan would like to see greater government support of the sport. He told a Persian reporter, “I didn’t get any help from the Iran government and they didn’t support me. I got a visa because of my coach and Persian brothers and no one else was there to support me, at all.”

Over the past few decades, Iran has managed to produce high level athletes ranging from dancers to MMA fighters. However, their talent is often suppressed by goverments views which limits the athlete’s career. 

These bodybuilders do not choose the country they are born in, but their careers are hindered by attitudes and policies, such as US President Donald Trump’s travel ban, that associate Iranians, unfairly, with terrorism.

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