Ali Reza Asahi, the world bodybuilding champion in the 90-kilogram category, made history as the first Afghan representative in South Korea in November 2023. However, upon returning to his homeland, Asahi is facing unemployment.
On November 9th, Afghanistan’s Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation announced that Asahi had secured a historic gold medal, outperforming competitors from South Korea, India, China, and Japan.
Despite the lack of a proper training facility, Asahi dedicated six months to preparing for the competition. “I exercised three times a day – mornings, noons, and evenings, and my quarantine was getting harder day by day,” said Asahi.
His journey to the competition was marked by financial struggles. Unable to afford travel expenses and accommodation, Asahi borrowed money from friends, pledged his property, and sought sponsorship for his journey from Afghanistan to South Korea.
The Taliban’s strict regulations on bodybuilders, including dress codes during training and competitions, have cast uncertainty over the future of sports in the country. The resurgence of the Taliban has triggered an exodus of athletes, reminiscent of the challenges faced during their previous rule in the ’90s.
Despite Asahi’s efforts to bring honor to his country, he expresses the painful reality of returning to a lack of support and opportunities. “When someone works hard for his country and raises its flag as a peace ambassador, despite all these efforts, he simply doesn’t have a place upon returning home. It’s very painful,” said Asahi.
Asahi’s income was previously derived from a private gym where he worked as a trainer. During his six-month quarantine for the South Korea competitions, he received financial support from colleagues and friends. Now unemployed and actively seeking a job for over 20 days since his return, Asahi reflects on the challenges faced by athletes upon coming home.