The powers-that-be of competitive bodybuilding have tried pretty much everything to save the sport:
- They tried to make it more mainstream. But that ain't gonna happen; it's a fringe sport and they should accept it and develop that market.
- They gradually got rid of female bodybuilding.
- They added "natural" divisions or federations.
- They added new classes with more reachable and aesthetically pleasing physiques.
Nothing Has Really Worked
Trying to shoot for the mainstream hurt diehard fans. Trying to get rid of female bodybuilding didn't bring in more fans, and frankly, nowadays muscular women are more accepted than before anyway. They added classes but you have no real judging criteria and athletes don't know how to prepare for them.
Natural federations aren't all that "natural" and the less impressive physiques don't attract the hardcore bodybuilding fans. They aren't pulling in new fans either. You can't really tell what their market is. The federations seem to only make money because of the fees the athletes have to pay to compete and the tickets their friends and family buy.
The fact is, people want to see extremes in muscularity, aesthetics, and conditioning. But having former (and even current) athletes dying at a young age isn't good for business. Neither are pro-bodybuilders resorting to porn, fetish escort services, or selling drugs to support their competitive lifestyle.
Five Ways to Fix It
Federations should consider investing in their athletes first, losing some money up front, but potentially growing much bigger later on. Some ideas:
1 – Offer qualified medical support.
Make it mandatory, as in all pros have to get check-ups 2-3 times a year. And I'm not talking about having the token general practitioner on staff, but someone who really knows the game like Dr. Serrano or Dr. Di Pasquale. And the fees need to be covered by the governing bodies.
2 – Have clearly defined judging standards.
Make them strictly enforced for every class. At the moment, classes like bikini, men's physique, and classic physique (even womens physique) seem to have judging criteria that are all over the place. And often, who you know matters more than the actual physique being presented on stage. If judging standards are not set properly and enforced, it opens up the door to personal preferences and corruption.
3 – Get the athletes better financial support.
Yes, having better money prizes (especially in classes other than male bodybuilding) would be nice, but how about receiving some form of support for all currently and actively competing pros? Even if that meant giving less money to the winner of the Mr. Olympia. This might sound laughable to now, but pro athletes are paid athletes in almost every other sport. And those sports are thriving.
4 – Educate the athletes.
Set up mandatory seminars about the drugs used, what they do, and their potential long-term effects. These seminars should not be given by alarmist anti-drug doctors but by people who actually know their stuff. And don't do these to play the fear card; present things as they really are. Obviously this approach can't save everybody who competes at a high level, but this along with the medical testing would go a long way in preventing death and making the sport healthier.
5 – Make the pro card worth something.
They're handing out way too many pro cards to bikini, figure, and male physique competitors compared to the number of male bodybuilding cards. Receiving a pro card should be an achievement you can be proud of. And it's not the case if a bikini girl with six months of training, starving, and tanning can earn one! That's disrespectful to the athletes who've been trying to win their cards for years.
But none of this will happen because the governing bodies are more interested in using the athletes to make money now than actually developing the sport.