I believe I am the last of the Mohicans of the sport called Physical Culture or in the common parlance, Body Building. Most probably, I am the only surviving physical culturist or body builder of the last generation, spanning a period from 1948-1965. I am now 81 years old. This essay springs from a request [...]


Is physical culture or bodybuilding in a state of comatose: Neither dead nor living?


I believe I am the last of the Mohicans of the sport called Physical Culture or in the common parlance, Body Building. Most probably, I am the only surviving physical culturist or body builder of the last generation, spanning a period from 1948-1965. I am now 81 years old.

This essay springs from a request by a friend of mine, to highlight the pathetic state of this sport in contemporary times. I disclaim any research into official records/documents. This is written based only on my memory. Therefore, I am open for corrections if there are any factual errors in it.

National Status of Physical Culture, then and now

The status of physical culture in Sri Lanka during my era was one of dynamic activity and growth, spearheaded by an active and energetic governing body of the sport, the Physical Culture Association of Ceylon, headed by its president Dinkar Muthukrishna (of Lawrie Muthukrishna Accounting Firm), and a livewire secretary, Clarence J de Alwis.

They were ably assisted by men of integrity such as Wolsley Fonseka (a reputed boxer), Derrick Palmer, Marshall Fernando, Packeer Ally, Douglas (Duggie) Roberts, Kumaraswamy (Kum) and the great K. Duraisingham (a multi-disciplinary sportsmen, who represented Ceylon in wrestling and athletics at the Empire Games and also winner of the National Most Muscular Man title and also a weightlifter, gymnast and soccer player). Clarence J de Alwis, was succeeded by Peter Prins and followed by Jinadasa (Jin) Ranasinghe as secretary.

These men were sincere lovers of the sport. They were motivated by the love of the sport than any pecuniary interest. Under their leadership, physical culture became prominent and popular and there were many clubs affiliated to the governing body.

Right throughout the year, many physical culture contests were held at provincial and district levels such as Mr. Moratuwa, Mr. Kandy, Mr. Jaffna, Mr. Kotte, Mr. Dehiwela, Mr. Mt. Lavinia, Mr. Western Province, Mr. Central Province, and National titles, Junior Mr. Ceylon and Mr. Ceylon, and Most Muscular Man Contests.

In 1959, the governing body, organized and hosted the first ever Mr. Asia contest. The Asian Federation of Physical Culture, was born in Colombo.

Several countries participated in the Mr. Asia contest, such as India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand and the host country. This was held at the ‘Green House’ in Viharamaha Devi Park in Colombo under the sponsorship of the leading business showman, Donovan Andree. The panel of judges were, Monotosh Roy of India (first Asian to win Mr. Universe, Short Man Class title), Mohamed Amin of Pakistan, Kok Kee of Malaysia, Chua Chakshurakha of Thailand. The winner was Rachen Panthukawong of Thailand.

The writer was placed third in the Tall Man class (21 years of age). Ronnie Steinwall was a runner-up in the Short Man class. The second Mr. Asia contest was held in 1960, at Lahore, Pakistan. Ronnie Steinwall and I were selected, and were the first to represent the country in an international contest abroad. I won the Tall Man class title at the age of 22. Ronnie Steinwall was second runner-up, in the highly competitive Short Man class.

The third Mr. Asia contest was held in 1961 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I have narrated this only to demonstrate the hard work and dedication of the Ceylon Physical Culture Association, then, as compared to the sluggish and lethargic performance of the present governing body of the sport.

There is a visible marked decline in the momentum in the activity of physical culture, now. There were several physique competitions then, and many clubs nominating their representatives for these contests. Physical culture or Bodybuilding was very popular then.

Every now and then, there would be some physique contest held and the media gave publicity to them. People were aware that there is a sport called Bodybuilding, then. Physical culture was alive and pulsating with vigour. Now, sadly, it is in a comatose state, neither dead nor living.

The writer had won the Junior Mr. Ceylon contest in 1957 when he entered the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya in 1959. I was instrumental in creating an awareness, among the undergraduates about weight-training for body building.

The university gymnasium was well equipped with barbells, dumb bells, horizontal and parallel bars, but these were in disuse and nobody exercised. When I started my weight-training programme many joined me. By 1961, I was able to develop a group of bodybuilders, which enabled me to hold the first Mr. Campus contest.

The Campus Director of Physical Education, Mr. Lesley Handunge, who was a notable Olympic boxer, was a source of encouragement for physical culture. About ten contestants participated. The reigning Mr. Ceylon, Ronnie Steinwall, Packeerally, and the Campus Medical officer, Dr. Udugama were the judges.

The late Hilmy Manzil was crowned Mr. Campus. The contestants included, Reggie Liyanage, Lakshman Perera, George Jayamanne, late Janaka Nakkawita, M.H.M. Hamza, late Vernon Maldeniya, and Thalif Deen. It is worthy of note that J. B. Nakkawita entered the Foreign Service and served as a Diplomat and Ambassador, and Thalif Deen took to journalism and is now serving as Senior Editor and Director IPS news agency at the UN in New York.

For the first time in the annals of bodybuilding, the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, fielded a team of contestants for the 1962 Mr. Ceylon contest, including the writer, who won the Mr. Ceylon title. I mention this, to illustrate that Physical culture or body building was very active and had a noticeable National presence during the previous generation.

Unfortunately, one does not see physique contests held often for various titles such as Novices, Juniors, Seniors, and at district, provincial, regional and national levels, now. I don’t think, even the annual National, Mr. Ceylon and Junior Mr. Ceylon contests are held regularly. This reflects the dearth of physical culturists today.

Comparison between body building and other sports

All forms of sports, involve movement of the body and use. In that sense, every sport is an exercise for physical fitness. All competitive games, combative sports, either individually or as a team, require skill and technique, which has to be developed through training and practice.

These forms of sports contribute only unconsciously and indirectly as an exercise for physical fitness. It is a generalized form of physical exercise, unlike physical culture or body building. Weight-training for body building is consciously directed to one’s body. In contrast to all general sports, Physical culture is a particularized form of sport for physical fitness and body building.

Bodybuilding is not a skill and technique based sport. It is totally focused inwards to one’s body. It is not a matter of skill, technique, tactics, strategy which is the characteristic of sports or games. Due to this nature of physical culture or body building, the conception of the majority of the people, and even the experts of the Ministry of Sports, is that bodybuilding is not a sport. This is an erroneous perception.

The yardstick of determining what a sport is, should be entirely based on one principle, and that is, the principle of competition. If the competitive element is present, any game or activity, it can be deemed a sport. This distinction can be illustrated by a simple example. As we all know cricket is a sport. If a group of boys are playing “backyard” cricket, can we call it a sport.

But if the same game of cricket is played between two clubs or two nations, we call it a sport. Why? That is because the core element here is the principle of competition between two nations. Similarly, if an athlete if he runs on his own on a street or even on a track, all by himself, can we call it a sport? Certainly not, because the element of competition with another is absent.

I think these two examples would suffice to establish that bodybuilding also will not be sport, if engaged in private. But, if one were to compete with other body builders officially, in a competition or contest, it entitles itself to be called a sport. The difference is only in the criteria of judgment applied, between a sport like cricket or athletics. In cricket it is the runs scored. In athletics, it is the time, distance or height.

But in bodybuilding it is size, balance and symmetrical development of the body, delineation of muscle, degree of muscularity, artful display of the body and muscles, carriage, and the overall element of body beautiful. Thus, the competition is decided on these varied yardsticks.

Therefore, it is irrational for anyone, and worst of all, the Ministry of Sports, the national sports authority, to deem Physical culture or body building a non-sport. At international level, there is a move even to include body building as an Olympic event. When the trend is inclusiveness, our state authority is resorting to exclusiveness.

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