Slathered with fake tan and flexing bulging muscles, dozens of underwear-clad bodybuilders competed for the coveted title of “Mr Afghanistan” in a Soviet-era stadium in Kabul.
Bodybuilding is one of the most popular sports among young people in the war-battered country — permitted even under the Taliban’s hardline regime.
Dozens of muscled men with number cards tucked into their skintight underpants competed in the 10th annual Mr Afghanistan competition on Wednesday organised by the Afghanistan Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation (AFBBF).
The contestants, including some with disabilities, grinned and shifted their poses to western jazz music, contorting their triceps before a crowd of cheering and whistling spectators.
In the end Mahmood Matin, a youngster from western Farah province, was crowned Mr Afghanistan.
The urban youths, sporting spiky hair and tight T-shirts, have few memories of the oppressive Taliban regime ousted in a 2001 US-led invasion.
They worship musclemen from Hollywood and Bollywood movies, including Sylvester Stallone and Salman Khan, and spend hours in Kabul’s ubiquitous gyms honing their muscles to perfection.
It is all a far cry from the days of the hardline Taliban, now leading a bloody 13-year insurgency against the US-backed Afghan government.
While in power, the Taliban banned most sports and all music but allowed bodybuilding on the condition that men wore long pants while training.