Pics by Nimalsiri Edirisinghe
- We can bring more medals to the country through bodybuilding
- Internationally, our local federation doesn’t matter
- SLBF supports IFBB Elite Pro which is a corrupt body
- I spend 18-20 lakhs for one competition
- When other athletes win they get houses, vehicle permits and money
Lucion Pushparaj, nicknamed as the Black Lion of Asia recently became the overall winner at the WBPF World Bodybuilding Championship held in Thailand. This is quite a victory for Sri Lanka and the whole of Asia as his name is now being read alongside that of professional bodybuilder and Hollywood superstar Arnold Schwarzzeneger. Competing under the 100 kg category at the event, Lucion believes that it is a big win in his career. But his journey hasn’t been a pleasant one. Having had his primary education at St. Xavier Maha Vidyalaya, Ja-Ela and his secondary education at the Basilica College, Ragama Pushparaj has been a sporty figure since school days. Equipped with a Diploma in Nutrition and Fitness he has paved the way to win the hearts of the people through his passion for weight lifting. However, his battle to earn the support and backing from the Sri Lanka Bodybuilding Federation (SLBF) continues as a result of conflict of interest between him and the officials and quite unfortunately, corruption.
In a candid interview with the Daily mirror , Pushparaj expressed his views on the journey he has come thus far, why he doesn’t receive any support from the Federation and his future aspirations.
Q What inspired you to take up a sport like bodybuilding?
I was involved in sports ever since school days and I did athletics, volleyball and cricket. In athletics my events included 400m, 800m and 1,500m and I have won at all-island level as well. It was from this point that I thought I should further my career in sports. I then started working at many gymnasiums as a fitness instructor and that inspired me to try my hand at bodybuilding. I started participating at competitions since 2013. I had the structure and it was a matter of developing my body for every competition. But it’s quite a challenge to develop a muscle as it needs proper nutrition on time and continuous training.
Q Do you see a difference in how people perceive fitness from then to now?
I believe that it wasn’t as popular as what it is today. It was at a dormant level among body builders and even the people. This includes the authorities as well.
Therefore this sport didn’t receive the necessary attention to be developed. But with my victory at the World Championship I believe it was a turning point in the history of this sport. I feel that many people are aware of it now and I hope we will be able to produce more body builders in Sri Lanka and make it the most popular sport in the country. I believe that we could bring more medals to the country through bodybuilding and there are many others in the field who have a huge potential.
Q What challenges did you have when you initially started prepping up for a championship?
The first international championship I participated in was the Oman Championship back in 2013. When I was preparing for it I didn’t have any idea about my contenders. But I was satisfied with my body and I knew that I was ready to face it. There I won the gold medal under the 100kg category and it was my first experience. I had financial issues and that usually stands in the way. Fitness includes a proper diet and it is quite costly to stick to a diet plan. We have to train every day and that itself is another challenge.
Q Why isn’t the Federation backing you in this journey?
There are three federations that function at the international level. These include the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB), the World Bodybuilding and Physique Federation (WBPF) and the World Fitness Federation. Asia’s strongest Federation is WBPF. Back in 2017 IFBB split between an American and a Spanish owner mainly due to corruption charges faced by the Spanish individual. From that point onwards, he formed a new federation by the name IFBB Elite Pro. Currently the Sri Lanka Bodybuilding Federation supports IFBB Elite Pro and the Federation sends contestants for championships organised by this corrupt body. In this situation we will not be able to participate at Olympia and Arnold Classic championships. I represent WBPF and therefore I have a chance to participate in these championships and it has always been a dream for me. But internationally our local Federation doesn’t matter. It’s the country that matters. Why do we have to seek approval from the Federation when they don’t even sponsor our visa or ticket? So the Federation should open their eyes and give an opportunity for more individuals to develop an interest towards the sport. We have to do everything on our own and there’s no need for me to stand with the Federation. I anyway don’t represent a federation, I represent the country. If I have the talent why should I wait for an authority to give me the green light? I surely can find my own way and that’s what I have done and I was able to compete against 52 other countries and win the overall championship.
Q Is this why nobody from the Federation came to welcome you on your arrival?
Nobody came to welcome me officially. They also send body builders and I too am a body builder. So why do they give preferential treatment to their players and not us? I see this as unfair treatment but it doesn’t bother me at all. I lift weights for the people of my country, not for politicians or authority figures. As a citizen of this country I have always proved that I’m not a burden to anyone. I don’t get VIP tickets; I travel like any other passenger. If anybody wants to welcome me they can do so but I have never asked anybody to come and support me. When I went to the World Championship I sponsored two other body builders who were interested in the sport and they also participated. This is a responsibility of the Federation but I did it in my personal capacity. We don’t get funds or sponsorships. The Ministry gives the approval for visa and we get the ticket. Other than that I don’t get any support from authorities. I spend between 18 -20 lakhs for one competition. For a month I spend close to 2 lakhs just for the food. I need to have at least eight meals a day as the body requires adequate portions of carbs, protein and fat. In addition to that I have to take supplements and do continuous training. I don’t see it as an obstacle but I want to explain the commitment one has to give towards the sport. I don’t need anything from the authorities. Probably they may not be aware of these aspects.
Q Why should this sport be given more attention?
So far, bodybuilding is the only sport that has brought in more medals to the country. As such medals are brought in through power lifting, weight lifting and bodybuilding. Some athletes are even sent abroad for training but they hardly bring any medals to the country. At the recently concluded championship the entire Indian team included 70 participants. They participated in various events and they even had females. I have been invited to further my career as a coach in other countries but I still haven’t decided which path to take.
Q What kind of support do other bodybuilders get?
During the preparation period I didn’t receive any support but after I won the Championship Housing and Construction Minister Sajith Premadasa gifted me a house and a sum of 10 lakhs. I was elated by this move. Even the newly appointed Sports Minister Harin Fernando has extended his support. Former sports ministers haven’t given me anything either officially or personally. But other body builders were sponsored for their food, overseas training and other facilities. When other athletes win they get houses, vehicles and money. I should acknowledge the support extended by Dilantha Malagamuwa who has come forward in sponsoring me. I got my training locally and I feel that we have the facilities to train someone interested in the sport.
Q If the Federation gets back on track, in what ways would it benefit those involved and interested in the sport?
They should come forward and form a bodybuilding team and find sponsors. Every other country has a team. We have body builders who can represent Sri Lanka internationally. When there’s a team others will be encouraged to join. That would in fact be a goal for them. If we take cricket or volleyball there are teams and players work hard to get into these teams.
Q What lies ahead in your career?
When I walked up to the stage to receive the award I was overwhelmed. I should say that I had all the blessings of the people for this win. My people are with me and that’s more than enough. I have two events including Olympia and Pro Qualifier championships and I have to win at least one of them that will qualify me to participate at Arnold Classic. Arnold Classic will be in September and people have promised their support in their best possible way.
Q Your message to the youth and future body builders of Sri Lanka.
The youth today are addicted to drugs and other bad habits. When someone goes to the gym, they forget it. I request parents to introduce them to this sport. Once at the gym they concentrate on their body and they have less time to engage in nefarious activities. If we have a target we can move towards it. I started from scratch but today people know me because of bodybuilding. I know parents who walk up to me and say that their children are following me and that they want to be a bodybuilder like me. So it’s quite satisfying to know that I have been an inspiration to someone else.