Indians have been competing in strength sports for nearly 1000 years now. It only makes sense that Indians would pick up bodybuilding quickly and become one of the leading countries in the sport. However, bodybuilding is a rather new phenomena to India, but is quickly rising as India’s favorite sport.
The father of bodybuilding, Eugen Sandow, made sure to visit India during his World tour in 1904-1905. After all, he could not pass up the opportunity to teach so many people his methods. He had seen how thin many Indians were in pictures and was not sure how enthusiastic they would be to learn bodybuilding. He soon discovered how wrong he was when hundreds of people were waiting to greet him at his first stop in Calcutta. He was soon offered more money in India than he had been offered in the United States and Great Britain to train individuals. Sandow discovered the appetite for bodybuilding in India was greater than any country he had been to. He was impressed with the potential for bodybuilders in India and said, “The native Indians have a fine foundation for the building of large, physical men.”
India has 4X the population of the US and therefore 4X better odds of producing a Mr. Olympia winner. In India, the average man is 5’5” which aligns nicely with the average height of a winning Mr. Olympia at 5’8”. India does not have the major money making sports like the NFL, NBA, and MLB. In these professional sports in the US you can be a below average player and still make a million dollars a year while in bodybuilding you must win the Mr. Olympia, have several sponsors, and guest pose all over the World to attain similar compensation. India has many professional sport leagues, but none come close in salary to what the big three in the US pay. While the US loses many great potential bodybuilders to these sports, India does not. If the opportunities, prize money, and sponsorships increase India could easily rise to the top as the premier country for bodybuilding. Sponsors are only just beginning to discover Indian bodybuilders as marketable athletes here in the US. It certainly helps that India has the second most English speakers only behind the US.
With the powder keg fully loaded, what could cause the spark that brings Indian bodybuilding to the mainstream? The 1970s bodybuilding scene in the US (often referred to as the Golden Era), was very similar to that of India’s current state of bodybuilding. Prize money was low, and sponsorships were nearly non-existent. Bodybuilders competed for the love of it. Then, in 1977 Pumping Iron starring Arnold Schwarzenegger came out which caused an explosion in the bodybuilding and fitness industries. Prize money increased substantially along with sponsorships and the sport took off. The same thing could just as easily occur in India through Bollywood.
Although India has lagged countries much smaller than itself in producing bodybuilding champions, the potential is there. Eventually, bodybuilding contest producers and sponsors will realize the potential and capitalize. It is only a matter of time before we see an Indian hoist the Sandow trophy as Mr. Olympia which would certainly be fitting as it was Sandow who first realized the bodybuilding potential India has. Will it be five years, ten, twenty? Enduring Aesthetics podcast got together to discuss this issue and consulted with IFBB Classic Physique Pro Amit Roy to find the answer.