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Afghans pay the price for flexing their muscles

world Updated: Jul 25, 2010 17:06 IST

Reuters
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Arif Sakhi preened and posed his well-oiled muscles to win the "Mr Afghanistan" crown earlier this year, but behind that perfectly sculpted physique his vital organs were breaking down under the strain of steroid abuse.

Sakhi's death last month at the age of 26 has shaken Afghanistan's body building community and shown it is not beyond the reach of the shady billion-dollar business in legal and illegal supplements.

"Unfortunately using illegal supplements has been seen among our young body builders, but we have no resources to stop it," said Ustaad Bawar Hotak, the head of Afghanistan's Bodybuilding Federation.

"I always tell any sportsmen to use natural products instead of using dangerous supplements that damage their health."

Hotak said there was evidence that both professional and amateur body builders in Afghanistan were using imported illegal supplements banned by the national federation.

But Hotak denied "Mr Afghanistan's" death was due to using risky supplements, saying Arif Sakhi was poisoned by his rivals - even as fellow body builders said the champion's liver and kidneys had been devastated by steroids.

"Everyone who prepares themselves for a competition uses steroids and other types of injections for their muscle growth," said Haroon, working out at the Kabul Gym.

"I do, he does and almost everyone else does," he said, pointing to other young men working on their physiques in a gym packed with costly workout machines and weights.

The federation says there are over 1,000 gyms in Afghanistan, including at least 200 in the capital, where giant posters of famous musclemen in tiny briefs are a sometimes shocking sight in a society where many women still veil themelves from head to toe in public.

On any given day, Kabul's gyms attract up to 300 men to work out. There are also around 15 women-only gyms drawing around 1,500 members who wouldn't have ventured outside without a male companion during the Taliban's regime, let alone engage in sport.