>Bodybuilding and steroids on the rise in Afghanistan.

>Steroids were on sale last week at Bush Bazaar, a maze of stalls named after President George W. Bush because merchants hock U.S. military surplus and other American wares, including bodybuilding vitamins, shakes and powders with names like Mega Mass and Great Gainer.

Among the vendors was Zalmai, 23, who goes by one name and keeps steroid vials and tablets stashed on a shelf in his shop behind bottles of “power capsules” sporting the likeness of Jay Cutler, former Mr. Olympia.

Steroids for sale include systanol, testoviron and deca durabolin. He also sells human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG, a hormone used to enhance steroids’ effects.

Each box of steroids sells for about $5, he said. The Health Ministry inspector who visits regularly does not ask about the steroids — he mainly checks to make sure the protein powders have not expired. Steroids are not illegal, so Zalmai — an aspiring bodybuilder himself — has never had a problem.

“These are only for professionals,” he said, adding that he makes those new to the sport wait four months before selling them steroids.

“The people who don’t know how to use it are damaging their bodies,” he said.

It was rumored that steroids contributed to the death of last year’s Mr. Afghanistan heavyweight title winner. Arif Sakhi, 26, died last June after suffering liver and kidney failure, typical side effects of longtime steroid abuse.

Ustaad Bawar Hotak, the head of the Afghanistan Bodybuilding Federation, and others in the Afghan bodybuilding community deny that Sakhi was doping. In a country rife with corruption and organized crime, where conspiracy theories abound, they insist he was killed by his enemies.

“It wasn’t about using drugs,” gym owner Sherzad says. “He just had problems with people who poisoned him.”

But both Sherzad and Hotak concede that doping is common among Afghan bodybuilding amateurs and professionals, and that more could be done to expand testing at professional competitions.

“We don’t have the systems to do the doping tests here, because it’s expensive,” Hotak says, and the country does not have specialized labs to handle testing.

Last year, Afghanistan’s National Olympic Committee joined the World Anti-Doping Agency, which has promised drug-testing equipment and funding in coming months, according to the committee’s president, Lt. Gen. Mohammad Tahir Aghbar.

Last month, Aghbar created a team of investigators who inspect Kabul’s gyms, quietly looking for steroids. During the next few months, they will report which gyms have the most people using steroids, he says, and his office plans to mount an educational campaign in Kabul and other provinces geared toward zero tolerance.

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