• "Our sport is about discipline and being strong in the mind," says trainer Amro Jalajel. (Andrew Dodd)Source: Andrew Dodd
Bodybuilding is helping to keep young men positive, disciplined and away from drugs and violence.
Anthony Pinda

The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour
22 Nov 2016 - 2:27 AM  UPDATED 21 Nov 2016 - 12:49 PM

Muscular bronzed bodies glisten under the flashing lights as an ecstatic crowd fills the Prince Hamzeh Hall on a tranquil morning in Amman.

This is the Mr Olympia Amateur bodybuilding championship, and it’s the first time the event has been held in Jordan.

For many of the supporters, it’s about more than ripped bodies and bulging muscles.

One spectator, Khalil Al Qarout, tells SBS that it’s “about supporting each other and having close connections with fellow bodybuilders”.

“We are like brothers,” Al Qarout says.

Qarout and his cheer squad have converged on the stadium to cheer on their mentor and coach, Mohammad Al Harasis, who is competing in the under 85 kg category. He and about 30 of his friends have gathered high in the stadium and are chanting “Sis, Sis, Sis, Mohammad Al Harasis”.  

“It’s important to be here because Mohammad has put so much time into helping us become athletes, so we are here to support him,” Qarout says.

Bodybuilding has been popular in Jordan since the 1980s and the country is finally making its name on the world stage with top-class athletes.

“This is very important for us,” says Dr Akef Taifour, the Vice President of the recently established Jordanian Bodybuilding Federation.

"Most competitors and spectators are young Jordanians that are being helped by the older generation to fight against drugs and violence."

“Most competitors and spectators are young Jordanians that are being helped by the older generation to fight against drugs and violence,” he tells SBS. “You have to keep them busy with something that is beneficial to the mind, body and soul.”

The federation was established because bodybuilding in Jordan has become a large part of what Taifour calls the “gym culture”. He estimates there are now over “1,000 bodybuilding clubs located throughout Jordan”.

“This is the first time in Jordan we have had a mass competition with a huge number of competitors and it’s only the second time Mr Olympia has been held in the Arab World,” Dr Taifour says.

Also among the spectators is Amro Jalajel, who recently stepped away from the posing stage to mentor young bodybuilders at his gym in Amman. Jalajel currently has four students competing in Mr Olympia.

“I give them firsthand advice, based on my 12 years of experience as a bodybuilder, on the best gym training techniques, nutritional information and advice about the natural supplements that they should take.”

According to Jalajel, the most important factor is food.

“You are what you eat”, he says. “Second is maintaining a strict sleeping pattern and, of course, hundreds of hours in the gym training your mind and body.”

“Our sport is about discipline and being strong in the mind. You must be this way to survive as a bodybuilder.”

"My wife loves that I do bodybuilding ... It makes her go crazy."

Jalajel says  thatonce you become a part of the bodybuilding world, “it’s like an addiction in the blood. Believe me.”

It’s an addiction his family fully supports.

“My wife loves that I do bodybuilding. She much prefers defined abs over a flabby stomach. It makes her go crazy,” he says.

Mr Olympia in Jordan is open to bodybuilders from Middle Eastern and North African countries including Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Kuwait, U.A.E and Jordan.

Born in Egypt to an Egyptian father and Iraqi mother, Mo Ismail is in Amman hoping to fulfill his dream of earning his professional accreditation, which will allow him to compete at several International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness events.

Ismail has lived in the United States for most of his life but is now based in the U.A.E, where he trains at the world-renowned Gold’s Gym, which he is also a global ambassador for.

He too knows the importance of support from friends and family.

“My father bought me my first official gym membership at Gold’s Gym in Washington D.C and to this day, I still thank him for supporting me to where I am,” he says.

"It’s not about being huge anymore.”

“Bodybuilding is a fantastic lifestyle, as long as you don’t go to the extreme. The sport has changed – there’s now multiple categories to compete in. It’s not about being huge anymore.”

“Your average person may not necessarily find old-school bodybuilding aesthetically pleasing, it’s really unattainable unless you put in endless hours of work and eat 10,000 calories per day.”

Ismail says the introduction of several new divisions allows more people to get into bodybuilding. As a result, he believes there will be more “athletes that you can realistically aspire to be like”.


The author travelled to Jordan as part of The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour. Read more stories form this series:

A herbivore’s guide to Jordan
From crisp falafel to colourful salads and stuffed breads, there are delicious options for vegetarians among Jordan's traditional foods.
How Zumba is helping Syrian refugee women to heal
Female Syrian refugees in Jordan are taking up Zumba to help them recover from the trauma of war.
The Middle East’s first self-defence gym for women
She Fighter is empowering its students through martial arts, with a mission to end domestic violence in Jordan, and a letter of approval from Barack Obama.
The Arab cooking school keeping a grandmother’s recipes alive
Three sisters have been carrying on the tradition of their grandmother’s Jordanian recipes.
Meet the people restoring Madaba’s magnificent mosaics
Jordan has a rich mosaic making tradition, dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods. There are thousands of sites, posing huge conservation challenges for a small institute charged with the job of training people to protect them.
Desert cultures connect through art
A small gallery in Amman offers locals and tourists a glimpse into contemporary Australian and Jordanian art.
Breaking down cultural barriers through skateboarding
Jordan’s first skate park is building human connections between Jordanian youth and young refugees.

The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour is a joint UTS and Swinburne University project, supported by the Commonwealth through the Council for Australian-Arab Relations, which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.