Australia’s best, Lee Priest, had been a much-acclaimed bodybuilder, yet controversial in many ways. He enjoyed most of his fame before 2006 when troubles began. Today, sadly, he is best known for the scandal caused by the serious frictions between him and the IFBB. Although he eventually got a lifetime ban, the athlete still has great support from the crowd – at least from part of it.
His main fault was having gone outside the IFBB and competing in a show considered a rival. The exclusivity clause of his contract was thus violated, resulting in a one-year long suspension. The penalty was increased as a consequence of Lee trying to argue against it. He got his pro card back in 2008; however, it was only temporary. Quickly after, an injury led to a setback, which was eventually longer than expected. Lee Priest invoked various reasons as to stay away from competitions all throughout 2009 and 2010 too, in spite of having healed his injury.
The first occurrence that sparked anger at IFBB was Lee Priest competing in the Night of Champions. This was an event run by Wayne Demilla, who formerly worked for IFBB. It is easy to understand the upset he caused by competing for what was known as a rival.
Lee Priest’s bodybuilder profile
A young 17-year-old Lee Priest
Australia’s top bodybuilding star was usually placing very well in competitions and managed to win 3 pro shows. His 24-year career saw him land any of the major events, in IFBB and NABBA as well. He earned his pro card when he was only 20 years old, which makes him one of the youngest bodybuilders in this privileged position. Born in 1972, Lee Priest inherited the passion for the sport in a less common way: it was his mother that was involved in bodybuilding and helped him have an early start. His first victory came no later than 1986. At the age of 17, he won IFBB’s, Mr. Australia. Two more victories in the same event followed, at 18 and 19. 1994 was an important year in his career – it was when Lee started competing as a pro. Although he did not get a podium in the many prestigious competitions that followed, his rankings were enviable, knowing he was just 20 years old. Lee won the IFBB Grand Prix of Australia in 2005 and the Ironman Pro in 2006, in the year of his first ban. Although he could no longer compete for IFBB starting with 2012 (when the lifetime ban came into action) he continued to appear in shows with NABBA for example – in 2013 the bodybuilder won the Mr. Universe title. Four years later, he retired.
The first ban and its extension – an unfair decision?
Lee Priest (AUS) won the NABBA Universe title in 2013
IFBB has its critics and for a good reason. When Lee Priest received his first ban, he began to argue in his favor – a natural reaction for anyone, especially in a position like this and considering the existing stakes. First, he received a one-year ban, which was then extended to two years, a decision that was criticized as unfair and abusive. The first punishment came in 2006 after a violation of the IFBB 1.7 rule, referring to his choice to compete in a rival event, which meant that IFBB was losing money. It was a conscious decision for Priest, as his critics point out so he could have easily foreseen the consequences. Eventually, he took too much freedom and dishonored a big contract he had with the federation. Shawn Ray also questioned the IFBB judging but received no ban. This was due to his better attitude and wording, as fans say. There is always a right and a wrong way to address a situation like this.
The reasons behind the lifetime ban
Lee talked about his ban
Lee Priest received a lifetime IFBB suspension after he did not honor properly his pro card, once returned after the first transgression. For 3 years, he was unable to compete – for reasons that went well beyond the injury he got. This meant no advantage for IFBB and no profit. Thus, canceling the suspension appeared simply as gratuitous and it was detrimental to the image of the IFBB competitions. Anyone in possession of a pro card must abide by certain rules. Mainly, it is about showing up and competing – whoever fails to do that does not fully deserve the pro card. A precedent like this could not only damage the reputation of the organization but also encourage more competitors to behave in similar ways to Lee Priest.
No lawsuit was ever brought against him, an aspect frequently mentioned by his supporters. The eventual ban was about drawing the line to clearly emphasize what it means to be a pro. Long unjustified breaks and bad behavior are not accepted. There is also the other side that sees the lifetime ban verdict as too harsh and unfair for a professional of Lee’s caliber.
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