Reprinted from MUSCLE BUILDER/POWER, July 1973
Baghdad, Iraq,
Report by Ben Weider, IFBB International President


The contestants swarmed into Iraq’s capital city by boat, by bus, by train and by plane. Surging throughout this entire gathering was a unique spirit of warm friendship and genuine brotherhood through sports, efficiently organized by the IFBB. Men of good will from many different religious faiths, political leanings, and racial backgrounds met in the spirit of harmony and true amity.

Long known as a city of international mystery, fabulous Baghdad rolled out the red carpet for the IFBB World Bodybuilding Championships. Gone are the days when bodybuilders had to participate in poorly attended contests held in a smelly old area. When the IFBB holds its annual "Mr. Universe" contest, the spectacle is on par with the Academy Awards Show. Lucky Ed Corney, who won the IFBB "Mr. America", and equally fortunate Mike Katz, IFBB "Mr. World", were sent as representatives of the United States to participate in this great show. Ken Waller, the 3rd man of the USA team pulled a muscle and had to cancel his trip. They not only won the coveted team championship award, but were received as enthusiastically as the top movies stars are in America.

"Mr. Universe" Party

Raymond Sauvet journeyed from Switzerland to work with the Judges Committee. He made sure that everything worked perfectly. Raymond is staging the IFBB "Mr. Universe" next year in Geneva and we recommend that all bodybuilders save their money and vacation time to witness the greatest of all spectacles in mid-October.

The Swiss Amateur Bodybuilding Federation President, Raymond Sauvet, organized a Special Charter Flight for the contestants going to Baghdad. Both delegates and bodybuilders arriving from all over the globe assembled in Geneva in preparation for the flight to the contest on board Iraqi Airlines. The clever Swiss organized a "Mr. Universe-in-Transit-Ball" to finance the cost of providing everyone with two nights room and board. The Ball was attended by over 800 people and all had a wonderful time. it was the first opportunity for the enthusiastic Swiss bodybuilders to meet, watch and talk to the greatest physique stars from many other countries. More than 70 delegates and contestants boarded the exclusive Iraqi Airlines Telestar jet, reserved only for the IFBB, that whisked everyone from Geneva to Baghdad in luxurious splendor.

On my way to Baghdad, I stopped at London, England, to pick up Dennis Stallard, Acting Chairman of the IFBB Judges Committee, and his charming wife. Together, we flew to Baghdad several days prior to the arrival of the contestants for the "Mr. Asia" competition [which was also being hosted by the Iraqi Organizing Committee].

Awaiting us at Baghdad’s Airport was a dramatic indication of what was to come. We were given a royal V.I.P. reception! Imagine … no passport or customs examination! Now I know how Henry Kissinger must feel in similary circumstances. After a brief Press Conference, we were quickly escorted to a first class hotel in a beautiful limousine. Naturally I assumed we were getting preferential treatment because of my position as International President of our Federation. But every delegate and contestant arriving later enjoyed the very same warm V.I.P. reception!

Enjoying their roles as international celebrities, Ed Corney, Mike Katz, and Tom Minichiello (Vice President of the IFBB for North America) had flown non-stop from New York to Geneva. Along with the other delegates and competitors from thirty-five nations, they stayed at a fabulous hotel overlooking beautiful Lake Geneva. They mingled with huge throngs at the Mr. Universe-in-Transit Ball and all the top competitors gave posing exhibitions that were covered by local TV and the press.

Nearly overwhelmed by the fabulous accommodations in Baghdad, Tom Minichiello said, "The balcony of my room overlooked possibly the most beautiful mosque of the city. Each nation had its own car, driver and guide. Each car was identified with its own flag on the door. I felt like a diplomat from the United Nations!’ Tom was very proud to be elected to the Judges Committee, headed by the extremely capable Dennis Stallard of Wales.

The Iraqi Federation simply outdid themselves in their hospitality. Three sumptuous meals per day were provided for everyone for the entire seven days. The automobiles, along with driver and interpreter, were at the constant disposal of the contestants, making it easy to get around in this amazing city and its environs.

Medical Symposium and Clinic

Malih Alaywan, our 1st Vice President from the lovely country of Lebanon, really went all-out to make this show the phenomenal success that it was. Malih is a man with a will of steel, with great integrity and the IFBB is justly
proud of him.

The Executive Council held a meeting discussing various IFBB problems of the past year. The IFBB Medical Committee met under the chairmanship of Dr. Yousif D. Al-Naaman, Professor and Director of the College of Medicine at the University of Baghdad. This was sponsored by the Iraqi Medical Society. Doctor Lawrence Golding, Professor-Director of the Applied Physiology Research Laboratory at Kend State University, gave a report on the research he has started on anabolic steroids. It was well received. Dr. Richard You, of Hawaii, gave a report on Nutrition in relation to building muscular champions. Two other Iraqi doctors gave reports on Nutrition and Protein. You will be hearing about this new research in future issues of Muscle Builder.

Approximately 300 doctors and coaches from all sections of Iraq participated. A special event of the Medical Symposium was the presentation of an Honorary Degree in Physical Education to me by the University of Baghdad. I was tremendously moved and thrilled by this great honor.

The Technical Committee, under the chairmanship of Milan Cabric of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, worked intensively to formulate a special questionnaire enabling the Technical Committee to determine the various types of exercises the champions use to achieve maximum training results.

The Judges Committee decided on a new method of judging physique contests at the "Mr. Universe." Prior to selecting the new system, many nations presented their own formula for judging. The best features from each were considered and consolidated and then voted upon and approved by the committee. This new point system will be used in all future International competition.

The Iraqi National Olympic Committee and other various government agencies went all-out to the visiting delegats and contestants. They offered exceptional visitor events, including a special tour of the remains of the ancient civilization of Babylon. Particularly breathtaking was a spectacular tour of the legendary "Handing Gardens of Babylon", one of the seven wonders of the world.

The now-defunct Life Magazine had sent two of their best photojournalists, Charles Gains and George Butler, to cover the Championships. They photographed the complete lineup of competitors in front of the "Lion of Babylon", which 4,000 years ago symbolized strength to that once great nation. The untimely demise of LIFE cancelled what would have been a spectacular pictorial display which would have really elevated the sport of Bodybuilding and the IFBB.

Katz and Corney Cause a Sensation

Ed Corney (USA)
1st place, Medium Class, and Overall Champion
IFBB "Mr. Universe"

The genial giant, Mike Katz, and his fellow teammate, the popular Ed Corney, caused a sensation wherever they went. They attracted a huge crowd of fans – numbering in the hundreds – when they went shopping or sight-seeing. Bodybuilding is Iraq’s second most popular sport (next to football). As they walked through the narrow streets to do some souvenir shopping in the local "sucs" (shopping areas), all eyes started to gaze upon them. Every time they stopped to look at something, their followers also stopped, looked and waited with them. Most were thrilled to say "hello" or just touch them. Imagine, musclemen being treated like the Beatles used to be!

Also with them on their jaunts through this city of wonders was Tom Minichiello. Tom related the following incident. "At one point Katz and Corney entered a jewelry store. Mike had seen a gold bracelet he wanted for his wife. The store was just big enough for the two Superstars and the owner. As the crowd waited outside watching, Mike started to bargain with the owner over the price of the bracelet. The owner kept moving his head to indicate "no". After ten minutes of this, Dr. Golding and I took off to do our own window shopping, We told them we’d catch up with them later. About 45 minutes later we went back in that direction and found the group at the same store still bargaining over the bracelet. By this time the owner was sweating and the crowd outside had doubled in size; they were all intently watching the two like a Fisher-Spassky chess game.

"Finally, the owner threw up his hands, then wrapped them around Mike and kissed him on both of his cheeks and shook his hand. The crowd went wild and burst into spontaneous clapping and cheering. Katz exchanged some Dinars (Iraqi money) for the bracelet. He then gave me a knowing look and said that if I wanted to buy anything, to let him to the talking."

President of Iraq Patronizes the Championships

We were honored that the President of the Republic of Iraq patronized our Championships. He also authorized the printing of the first two Bodybuilding Postage Stamps every issued. The stamps were printed to commemorate our Championships and the name of our Federation was also printed on these rare collector’s items.

The Executive Council agreed with my decision to allow Palestine to participate in the Championships – although they are not a member of our Federation – as a gesture of respect for Iraq. This does not mean that they are affiliated or recognized by our Federation. The problem of Palestine will be debated at the next IFBB Congress to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, October 2, 1973. The 1973 IFBB "Mr. Universe" contest will take place at the same time.

Mike Katz (USA)
1st place, Tall Class
IFBB "Mr. Universe"

The Opening Ceremonies

As an evidence of my great respect for Iraq and the extraordinary way they catered to all our delegates and contestants, I decided to make my opening speech in Arabic. This is an unusually difficult language to master because of its peculiar intonations. I had Mr. Malih Alaywan, our First Vice President for the Middle East who lives in Beirut, make the official translation for me. Secretly, I had devoted an hour every day to study the speech in Arabic. When the night of the contest arrived, I was ready. The theatre was packed with 2,600 people and, to our astonishment, there was another 4,000 additional persons outside due to lack of space inside!

The crowed was so wildly enthusiastic that Mike Katz and Ed Corney could not get into the building in time and missed the opening ceremonies. When I was called upon to officially open the "Mr. Universe" contest, imagine the great surprise of the audience and millions of television viewers when I spoke in Arabic. The applause was overwhelming … and continued after every sentence. I was pleased that it was so well received. It was my way of saying a heartfelt "thank you" to the Iraqi’s for their wonderful kindness to me and our Federation.

Singing of the National Anthem of Iraq opened the competition. Then all of the fifty contestants paraded on stage, nation after nation, each carrying their own respective flag. When you consider that Iraq is so distant from Europe and the Americas, and also the explosive political situation in the Middle East, it was amazing that we had 32 nations participating. This was an excellent and valid testimony to our overwhelming interest in our sport and our activities among our now 81 member nations.

The Short Class was won by Kenichi Suemitsue of Japan. The Medium Class and Overall Champion was won by Ed Corney of the USA. Mike Katz, also of the USA, won the Tall Class. The top 6 in each class were:

Short Class
Medium Class
Tall Class
1. Kenichi Suemitsue (Japan)
2. Pierre Vandensteen (Belgium)
3. Mohamed Makkawi (Egypt)
4. Hubert Plumens (Belgium)
5. Talib Aldoory (Iraq)
6. Bras Antoni Danilva (Brazil)
1. Ed Corney (USA)
2. Janko Rudman (Sweden)
3. Annette Mederic (France)
4. Abbas Al-Hindawi (Iraq)
5. Serge Jacobs (Belgium)
6. Faris Jahjan (Lebanon)
1. Mike Katz (USA)
2. Baldo Lois (Spain)
3. Ali-Al Gayyar (Iraq)
4. Nadhir Kaaki (Lebanon)
5. Keijo Reiman (Finland)
6. Winston Roberts (Canada)

The USA won the team award, with Belgium second and Iraq a very close third. The Iraqi Minister of Youth then awarded the "Mr. Universe" all category trophy to Ed Corney. Mike Katz took second and Kenichi Suemitsue was third. It was truly a great show. On their way out of the Cinema, Corney and Katz had to be escorted by the local police as they were being mobbed by the Iraqi Bodybuilding fans.

Kenichi Suemitsue (Japan)
1st place, Short Class
IFBB "Mr. Universe"

There were seven Judges from seven different nations. Only International IFBB appointed Judges were allowed to officiate. Stand-by Judges were available in case of any discrepancy. Fortunately, the judging went smoothly and the resuls were warmly applauded by the vast audience. Although the Iraqi fans were somewhat disappointed that their own heroes did not place higher, they showed restraint and genuine respect for the winners. It is a pleasure to state that the Iraqi’s are the best behaved audience that I have ever seen.

Following the contest there were more thrilling parties … more exhilarating entertainment … and more pleasure for all. Two days later, delegates and contestants left for their respective homes. The Europeans and Americans returned to Geneva aboard the special Iraqi Airlines chartered jet. The officials of the Iraqi Weightlifting and Bodybuilding Federation came to the airport to see us off and bid us a friendly farewell. As the jet took off and we looked down at the city of Baghdad, I am sure that everyone was thinking about the truly "unforgettable" time spent there.

While it is impossible to personally thank each and every individual on the numerous Committees for their excellent and untiring efforts to help make this Congress and Contest such a monumental success – because there are so many involved – I do particularly desire to express my warmest appreciation to:

Col. Abdul Hameed Al-Badri, President
Mr. Awanis Yesaian, Member
Mr. Farouk Kassim, Secretary
Mr. Sabagh, Member

These gentlemen worked particularly hard. However, the entire Iraqi Federationis to be equally congratulated for their unusual ability , intelligence, and dedication of service to others.

Also, I wish to express my warmest thanks to the President of the Republic of Iraq, His Excellency Mr. Ahmen Al Bakr, for so graciously patronizing this Contest and extending to us the complete cooperation of the Iraqi government. I wish to also extend my thanks to the Minister of Youth and the President of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, Mr. Adnan Ayoub Sabry Al-Izzi, for the confidence he placed in me and for all the efforts extended through his Department which resulted in making this Congress and Contest the greatest and most successful ever conducted.

It was interesting to observe that every delegate and contestant left Baghdad with a happy smile. Each took home many unusual souvenirs which they will treasure for a lifetime. I now close my report by repeating the closing words of my speech in Baghdad … "LONG LIVE THE IRAQI SPORTSMAN."