Ben Weider created and nurtured competitive bodybuilding on a worldwide stage. Before he entered the picture, the sport had no one with global vision. Ben’s passion and indomitable energy created a sports organization that now stretches to 173 countries, and his passing marks the end of an era. While he handed off the baton in 2006 to Rafael Santonja, who got a great deal of experience at his side, as both a symbol of the IFBB and its creator Ben Weider is irreplaceable.
He had an unwavering belief in the power of sport to unite and a lifelong dedication to the idea that bodybuilding is an important part of nation building. Nothing and nobody can stand in his shoes. Bodybuilding changes more than the body; Ben understood that and was a tireless evangelist for its transformative power.
Born in 1923 in Montreal in humble circumstances worsened by the deep poverty of the ’30s, Ben dropped out of school after the seventh grade to help support his family. That early trial by fire plus the relentless anti-Semitism of the time forged his spirit.
Ben began his lifelong support of the military by enlisting in the Canadian Army, landing on the beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944. In his later years he was awarded the title of honorary colonel. By 2004, his prestige was so high that during the ceremonies honoring the 60th anniversary of D-day, he was seated next to the president of France.
With his older brother Joe, Ben shared a vision of what bodybuilding could be, beginning with their belief that it was good for everybody. What I admired most about him was that he changed the politics of the sport in the United States and the world. Because he understood prejudice, he created in the IFBB an organization that judged competitors not on skin color or religion but on who had the best physique. Before the IFBB, it was impossible to be a Mr. America if you were Jewish or a person of color. Ben changed that. It’s often mentioned that he made a statement for equality in 1975 by insisting on equal treatment and accommodations for all athletes in apartheid South Africa during the IFBB World Amateur Championships in Pretoria. Few of us can make that kind of difference. Ben did!
Ben passed away on October 18, 2008. My deepest condolences to his family. IM