Ford’s Turning The Tide Has Bach Backing Fight To “Right The Wrongs” Of GDR Doping After Decades Of IOC Inaction

2024-03-01 No comments Reading Time: 9 minutes
GDR doping Ford Davies
Never too late: in Turning The Tide, Michelle Ford calls on the IOC to allocate recognition medals to all those denied fair play by GDR doping in the 1970s and 1980s - images: left, Ford on the cover of her new book Turning The Tide; and how The Times broke the news of Bach's backing for the fight for justice

The International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has given a significant boost to hopes of justice, recognition and reconciliation for all athletes impacted by the GDR doping era when the Cold War spilled into sport.

The news was broken in an exclusive in The Times newspaper today, alongside a commentary from British swimmer Sharron Davies, who has campaigned for justice for more than three decades and had an appeal made on behalf of all athletes impacted rejected by the IOC in 1998 on the cusp of Germany’s doping trials and the criminal convictions of politicians, doctors, scientists and others who were partly to East Germany’s fraud.

The communist nation, which ceased to exist on German reunification in October 1990, systematically abused its athletes with banned substances in a clandestine scheme that made athletes around the world victims of the GDR victims of a toxic state secret.

The lifelong consequences included long-term physical and mental health conditions, miscarriages, the birth of deformed children on the one side and the anguish of injustice and never being recognised for the true worth of achievement, extending to the loss of opportunities that flow from in Olympic sport, both for the athletes, their coaches, families and communities.

If the GDR era ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the ripple of inspiration that flows from gold, silver and bronze at an Olympic Games was cut short with every passing Games, World and European Championships from 1973 onwards, women targeted and particularly impacted by biggest heist in the history of sport.

In swimming, girls as young as 11 and 12 were plied with anabolic steroids to give them the edge of maleness that underpinned the GDR’s success in a number of sports, swimming among those in which androgenisation of female athletes was particularly effective, along with track and field, rowing and cycling.

World Aquatics and World Athletics have both indicated that they committed to a truth, justice and recognition process but words have yet to turn into actions, the IOC’s 35-year-old “No!” a big barrier yet, despite precedents being set by the medals redistribution program “Take The Podium”, which reallocates medals if and when frozen anti-doping test samples reveal cheating retrospectively, and the case of Jim Thorpe:

Justice For Jim Thorpe 110 Years On Removes Last Hope Of IOC Clinging To ‘Statue Of Limitations’ Argument Against Calls For Recognition & Reconciliation For GDR Doping Victims

Now, none other than Thomas Bach has backed the fight for justice. It’s significant in a number of ways: the 1976 Olympic team fencing champion for the Federal Republic of German is a lawyer – and a man who became an IOC member in 1991 months after the chief doping doctor of the GDR, Manfred Höppner, later handed a criminal conviction, admitted to the deception underpinning the GDR doping scheme’s medals factory in an explosive Stern Magazin spread.

When GDR Doctors Were Asked By IOC To Draw The Line Where ‘Sports Medicine Ends and Doping Begins’

The first two of eight pages of explosive revelations on GDR doping in Stern Magazin in 1990
The first two of eight pages of explosive revelations on GDR doping in Stern Magazin in 1990

Basically, Bach has been able to read every devastating and excoriating line of revelations in his native German language since Höppner revealed that former IOC president Juan Samaranch had asked him and the likes of Claus Clausnitzer, the head doctor at the IOC-accredited laboratory in Kreischa used to hide not report positive tests, to be of service to performance sport.

In the late 1980s, as the end of the GDR drew near, the former sports minister in the dictator Franco’s Spanish Government, asked the East German doctors to help the IOC draw the line where “sports medicine ends and doping begins”.

As the evidence of cheating poured out from 1990 all the way to doping trials and convictions in 1999-2000, Samaranch and the IOC he led refused all appeals to justice and approaches to hold an inquiry into the fraud.

A Call For Action In Michelle Ford’s Turning The Tide

In the forward to Turning the Tide, a book by the Australian Olympic champion swimmer Michelle Ford, with this author, Bach praises Ford’s fight to “right the wrongs” of an era that has gone down as the darkest chapter in Olympic and swimming history.

Bach writes of Ford: “Her continued fight against the iniquities of doping, particularly her continuing fight to right the wrongs of the era in which she competed, highlights her amazing tenacity and fighting spirit.”

Ford concludes her book with a direct appeal to the IOC:

Turning The Tide, by Michelle Ford, with Craig Lord
Turning The Tide, by Michelle Ford, with Craig Lord

“With the Olympic Games of Paris 2024, Los Angeles 2028 and Brisbane 2032 upon us, I call upon the IOC and the international sporting federations to reallocate the medals through the ‘Olympic Medal Reallocation Process’ and re-establish the record books from the Montreal 1976, Moscow 1980 and Seoul 1988 Olympic Games.”

Turning The Tide, by Michelle Ford, with Craig Lord

Ford and Bach go back a long way. They and British track star and fellow Olympic champion Sebastian Coe, now World Athletics president, sat through the night writing the first speeches athletes got to deliver to the IOC Congress, at Baden-Baden back in 1981:

When Aussie Swim Ace Michelle Ford Spoke The Athletes’ Voice For The First Time To Olympic Bosses With Coe & Bach

Ford, Davies and American Olympic relay champion Wendy Boglioli, one of the stars of the Last Gold documentary highlighting the GDR’s dominance at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games, have formed a campaign group called FAIR, Female Athletes for Integrity and Resolution. The group first shared its feelings with World Aquatics more than a year ago.

As has long been the case, the group is not calling for any medals to be removed from GDR athletes. They want recognition in shadow medals and a set of adjusted results that reflects the original and reallocated finishing order. While doping has certainly not been confined to the GDR down the decades, East Germany’s systematic recording of its state secret, complete with names, dosages dictated by doctors and cast-iron proof of cheating leaves no doubt that a sports crime was committed.

In her book, Ford writes:

“The only opponents who finished ahead of me in finals at the Moscow Olympic Games were East Germans fuelled by banned substances. When the truth was revealed in the 1990s, we learned that the dosages of the male hormone testosterone given to those who beat me were higher than the [banned] Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson in 1988. When officers raided the garage of Dr Lothar Kipke, among the horrors unearthed was clear evidence that all those who finished ahead of me in my three finals at the 1980 Olympics had been doped.”

Doping: from research to fraud, by Brigitte Berendonk

The Time it took to have Kipke stripped of a swimming honour:

FINA Finally Sends Strong Message In Reform Process By Stripping “Disgraced” GDR Dr. Lothar Kipke Of 1980s Honour 20 Years After Criminal Conviction

There’s more of that from Julian Linden in The Daily Telegraph in Australia today, alongside extracts on some of the other key challenges in Michelle Ford’s voyage through Olympic waters.

The depth of deception was first laid out in “Doping: from research to fraud” by Brigitte Berendonk in 1991, the year after Höppner’s confession in Stern alongside evidence that Kreischa, the IOC-accredited laboratory in Saxony, had concealed a vast wave of positive tests among the 15,000 athletes estimated to have been doped from the late 1960s until the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989.

The impact on women was not just health and the opportunities for those who made it to the Olympics. It extends to being deprived of a place at the Games by those nations who knew cheating of some kind was surely a factor but set unrealistic standards of qualification for major events based on the doping-fuelled world records of East Germans.

Unsporting by Linda Blade with Barbara Kay
Unsporting by Linda Blade with Barbara Kay

Athletics coach with a PhD in kinesiology from Simon Fraser University in Columbia, Dr. Linda Blade, a national track and field champion in Canada in her day (profile feature at World Athletics), was set to go to the Seoul 1988 Olympics until selectors ramped up the target points in the heptathlon to reflect the drug-boosted pace and power Blade and others were expected to compete with. Blade stayed home and, ironically, watched from afar as the man Canada boasted as its star of stars in Seoul, fell from grace in spectacular fashion when he returned what became one of the most infamous doping positives in the book of cheating.

Take Ben Johnson and times it by 15,000 athletes and you get a sense of what came to pass in the GDR.

In the past several years, Dr. Blade, author of Unsporting, with journalist Barbara Kay, has been one of the leading campaigners to protect women’s sport for female athletes in the face of IOC guidelines on inclusion that have encouraged males identifying as transwomen to pursue sports careers in the category opposite heir biological sex. The consequences were seen in swimming through the case of Lia Thomas after World Aquatics had already begun a process of review and established a body of experts to look into male advantage. The conclusion of that process was a rule that bars any athlete who has experienced male puberty, Tanner stage 2, from the female/women’s category.

Related: Nancy Hogshead-Makar To Trans Champion Lia Thomas: ‘Sports Not Based On Identity But Biology … Advantages Of Male Puberty Cannot Be Rolled Back – It Isn’t Fair”

As Paris 2024 looms large on the horizon, the IOC today says it has nothing to add to Bach’s forward in Ford’s book, international federations are silent, awaiting his further word and generations of athletes, most notably the women who were caught in the crossfires of a Cold-War conspiracy, contemplate yet again whether reconciliation is possible through a process of truth and recognition or whether legal action that takes into account a woeful chronology of inaction is the only avenue left open to them.

‘Bach Words Would Be A Cruel Act If Followed By More Inaction’ – Davies

In a commentary in The Times today, Sharron Davies, author of Unfair Play, with this journalist, welcomes Bach’s words but says actions speak louder. She believes it would be a cruel act for Bach to praise those fighting injustice but do nothing about it, yet again. She notes: “I recall a personal conversation with François Carrard, the [late] top IOC lawyer, in which he said: “But two of the people in those races didn’t have drug tests.” Well, I certainly did and no systematic drug-taking programme from our era has ever surfaced barring one: the GDR.

“You have to have evidence,” Carrard said. Absolutely. Like a ton of irrefutable evidence out of an extinct nation that made a state secret of systematically doping its athletes with numerous dangerous and illegal substances. Official papers proved that the state’s secret police, the Stasi, even ran covert operations at the Olympic Games themselves.”

Sharron Davies – image – with the first copy of Unfair Play, the book written with Craig Lord

In response to questions about the GDR era on the back of petitions in the past decade that have been signed by more than 8,000 people, the IOC told this author in 2022 and again in December 2023 that “the apparent issue in question has been dealt with by a number of inquiries and parliamentarian committees in Germany already in the 1990th. All these facts are public knowledge since then.”

German authorities, cannot, of course, deal with anything or anyone beyond their jurisdiction. To date, the IOC has never dealt, within its own jurisdiction, with any of the issues and consequences of the mass systematic cheating of the GDR in any other way than to say “impossible”.

Those consequences include the following impact highlighted by Davies today: “Every time the Olympics come around, we’re reminded that we were “not good enough” as the statistics of the GDR fraud are trotted out to reinforce the lie. I hear my own colleagues at the BBC talk about “the last gold for Britain” being half a century ago, without any recognition of the truth about the 1976, 1980 and 1988 Games. It hurts, every time.

My team-mates from 1980 would have won six medals they never got, including two golds for Ann Osgerby, whose achievements are largely unknown even in swim circles these days, as knowledge passes with each generation.”

Osgerby, Helen Jamieson, Margie Kelly and June Croft would also be recognised as Olympic medley champions, while Davies’ elevation to champion in a 400m medley final that saw Petra Schneider pulverize the rest with a World-record time of 4:36.10 that remains the German record to this day, would be joined by silver with teammates Kaye Lovatt, Jackie Willmott and Croft in the 4x100m freestyle.

The Netherlands is among several others nations with a wave of swimmers who can now look to Bach to follow supportive words with deeds, while recognition would make its ace sprinter of the 1970s, Enith Brigitha, the first black woman to claim Olympic gold (imagine the inspiration that might have been) and Canada’s Nancy Garapick would be a double Olympic champion not double bronze medallist at a home Games in 1976 (imagine the inspiration that might have been) .

“It’s tragic,” says Davies. “. “Never acknowledged as champions; never able to access opportunities that flow from Olympic success; never able to sit children and grandchildren on their knees and tell them about that magical day “I won an Olympic medal” because fourth behind three athletes on steroids doesn’t have quite the same inspirational vibe.”

She notes the Jim Thorpe case and concludes: “It would be good if Mr. Bach could make sure more of us don’t die before the IOC does the right thing, starting with engagement with the female athletes who have endured the consequences of unfair play for decades … As Bach suggests, it’s time to back the athletes, clean sport, right the wrongs and finally send the right message that cheating will not be rewarded — ever!”

Commentary: Truth, recognition and reconciliation is long overdue. The IOC and the organisers of the Paris 2024 Olympics Games are making and will make much of the first parity in numbers between men and women at any Games in history this summer. That nod to how well women are treated in sport after 128 years of Olympic history will be meaningless if the two decades of GDR doping injustice that impacted female athletes with devastating consequences are allowed to stand as the official lie of the Olympic Movement.

The story of GDR doping’s devastating impact and the IOC’s treatment of female athletes down the decades and in the latest assault on fair play as sports organisations continue to allow males to access female sport, is told in Unfair Play, her book with this author.

Turning the Tide by Michelle Ford, with Craig Lord, will be available through FairPlay Publishing and book-sellers from March 8, International Women’s Day.

At the Manly Writers Festival in Sydney on March 16: Michelle Ford, Craig Lord and fellow journalist Julian Linden will discuss the book and Michelle’s fascinating journey through a wave of challenges still pertinent to athletes in 2024 to Olympic heights.

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *