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. “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.”