A Pakistani bodybuilder banned from competing in his home country now plans to join the world’s professional elite at Mr Olympia, having made his home in Derry.
Muhammad Masoom Butt, who moved to Derry with his wife and son in 2011 after years of threats and even attacks from religious zealots over his bodybuilding dress code, is the first professional registered with International Federation Body Building to represent Northern Ireland.
The 40 year-old, who won the Mr Asia title at just 21, says he spent years in the body building wilderness because of “political persecution” during the General Musharaf era. He was unable to take part in many major international tournaments because Pakistani Bodybuilding Federation banned him from competing because, he claims, “of personal grudges” arising over a dispute between two parallel bodybuilding bodies in the country. In 2008 Mr Butt hit out at the Pakistani Olympic Association in his home country’s national press, stating that no medals would be won at the Beijing Olympics because retired army officials were running the organisation. “Because I continued to compete at a high level where I could, I got great newspaper coverage in Pakistan and after I spoke out about the POA, the government came after me big time. I was fired from my job as a police officer and took the authorities to court over it. I also got threatening phone calls from the Taliban as I was doing shows on the frontier with Afganistan. They told me bodybuilding was against Islamic dress code. When I said so many others were doing it, they said they were targeting me because I was the face of the sport. I’ve been threatened and attacked, my car was shot once as I drove out of my garage. It was getting very serious when I left.”
Mr Butt now plans to qualify for Mr Olympia in September. “I’m 40 now, my chance in my prime was destroyed,” he said.