THE Sarawak Bodybuilding Association (SBBA) has been producing champions on the international stage despite not getting any assistance from the sports authorities in the State.
Since its inception in 1963, the association has been self-financing — and assisted mostly by various forms of sponsorships.
As the association is perpetually poor, all the local bodybuilders have to pay their own way for the love of their sport. Even after winning the Mr Sarawak, Mr Malaysia and Mr Asia titles, they are no better off.
As such accolades go largely unnoticed and unrewarded, local bodybuilders are left to carry the huge financial weight imposed by their sport. Little, if anything, is being done to help them.
SBBA president Wee Hong Seng said with its good track record, the association should be getting financial assistance from the government to recapture the sport’s past glory.
With strong backing, the association could give the bodybuilders allowances and pay for their accommodation when they were competing in national and international pageants, he suggested.
Wee regretted that the local bodybuilders were a ‘deprived lot’ during competitions.
“Just recently, I discovered three to four of our bodybuilders having to share a hotel room. Moreover, they had to spend quite a lot of money on tanning lotion.
“True, a bottle of tanning lotion may cost less than RM100 but a bodybuilder with a huge physique may need two bottles per stage appearance, and should the competition stretch over three days, he would have to spend nearly RM600,” he said.
These are among the ‘hidden costs’ of taking part in bodybuilding contests, both locally and overseas.
According to Wee, between RM30,000 and RM40,000 is needed to organise a competition like Mr Kuching.
Without any help from the government, he said, potential bodybuilders might shy away from the sport and if left unchecked, this could spell the end of bodybuilding in Sarawak.
“Endorsement and recognition are important to encourage Sarawakians to take up the sport and groom new blood,” he added.
In the case of Sibu and Miri, their associations have to combine weightlifting and bodybuilding as one entity to get more government funding.
Wee has asked former Mr Asia, Liaw Teck Leong, to be part of a sub-committee to help promote bodybuilding in colleges and universities.
“Over the past six months, I attended several competitions and kept seeing the same old faces. We need to let the younger generation know more about the sport if we want to produce new champions,” he explained.
Wee is seriously contemplating organising a Mr College bodybuilding competition and confident private sector sponsorships will flow in if the results are good.
He recalled a recent national competition where SBBA picked 10 bodybuilders to represent the state.
“They were still able to achieve second to sixth places, which is not that bad, given their situation. With adequate support, I’m sure they could do even better. We’re now going through a hard time but if we continue to improve, hopefully, people will sponsor us.”
There is plenty of room for improvement. And according to Wee, who took over SBBA’s helm about eight months ago, a restructure is on the way.
“I’m not a bodybuilder, so I see things from a different perspective,” he said.
Once the situation has improved sufficiently, Wee said he wouldn’t mind relinquishing his post.
He also disclosed SBBA was considering submitting a proposal to the Malaysian Bodybuilding Federation to include bodybuilding in Sukma.
“If weightlifting can be a Sukma sport, why not bodybuilding?” he asked.
SBBA had about 100 members when it was set up in 1963. Currently, there are about 60 serious bodybuilders statewide.
Tales of financial woes abound among past and present state bodybuilding champions.
Bujang Taha, the second Sarawakian to win the Mr Asia title and a former Marine Department staff, is still ‘very disappointed’ at the scant attention paid to his sport.
He said more should be done to promote bodybuilding as a potential medal-winning event for the country.
He believed the government sometimes invested in the wrong sports, pointing out that bodybuilding was one of the few potential ones that promised medals but had been overlooked.
“In Sarawak, we have won many national and international awards. For that, I think we should be given the support we deserve. If left to their own devices, young and promising bodybuilders may not last long,” he said.
Bujang stressed it was important to have a welfare scheme for retired sportsmen as some of them without much education might not know what to do in their golden years.
“In my case, I retired from Marine Department in 1960s with a pension of around RM200. So I sell yam to support my family and am still doing it,” he added.
Mr Malaysia 2008 title contender Simon Kiew recalled explicitly being told they would receive assistance only if they clinched the top titles.
“That’s equivalent to a negative assurance because no way could we have defeated the giants of the sport who were well provided for while we were on our own.”
He said they were not asking for the moon and stars but only some form of assistance.
Citing membership of the Sarawak State Sports Council (MSNS) gym as an example, Kiew said only Mr Malaysia titlists were exempted from the monthly subscription fee of RM60 during their one-year reign.
He said since many of the bodybuilders held low-paying jobs, RM60 was quite a sum of money. As such, he believed waiving the fee for the runner-up and third placer — not just the champion — would be a big morale-booster.
“Training is an integral part of a bodybuilding regime, hence free membership will greatly help us even it’s just for a year,” he said.
Bodybuilder Ang Soo Boon said the previous management of the association could have done more for the sport.
“I believe had they got their act together, the situation would not have been that bad. They were just not interested.”
Referring to the 2009 Mr Sarawak contest, he said the winners only received some beverages.
“That is making a mockery of the sport,” he said, adding that the least they could do was to give isotonic drinks as prizes, which would have been more appropriate.
Ang said had the association played its part well, then the blame would fall squarely on the relevant ministry.
For Dexter Bong, going to Sibu to compete in a pageant on one ocassion was something he would rather forget.
“All the participants from Kuching had to travel by express boat. It was very crammed. As you know, being bodybuilders, we are not exactly petite.”
He also recalled to cut costs, four participants were packed into a small hotel room.
“We had to remove the mattresses and placed them on the floor. Two of us slept on the board of the bed while two on the mattresses.”
Teams from the other divisions such as Miri and Sibu were better taken care of with allowances and t-shirts while the participants from Kuching had to put up with a lot of inconveniences.
“It was very demoralising for us — we felt unappreciated,” Bong said.
If not for the love of the sport, many would have turned their backs on it long ago. The bodybuilders were not paid allowances when competing outside the state and had to spend out of pocket, and even if there allowances, payment was not consistent.
The bodybuilders were totally under the mercy of the association. Even after winning a title, they were not given any incentive. All they had was just a trophy and when they returned home, it was like nothing had happened.
However, most of the bodybuilders in Kuching are hopeful of a better future with a new SBBA management albeit cautiously since uncertainty still surrounds the financial situation of the association.
They agree the association can only do so much and need the support of the state government to move further afield.
Though there is a glimmer of hope for bodybuilding in the state, it can be easily extinguished by the non-committal attitude of the relevant ministry in whose hands the future of the sport ultimately lies.