Hail The Day When The Criminal Kipke Is A Member Of The FINA Family No More At The Dawn Of Hope On Healing & Reconciliation

2021-10-14 Reading Time: 6 minutes
What suited the GDR - and how Brigitte Berendonk told the story of systematic doping and State Research Plan 14:25 ... abuse in sport has taken many forms - Main Photo Courtesy NT/CL Archive

Editorial: The deed is not done yet but next month the ruling FINA Bureau will be asked by president Husain Al-Musallam to discuss and vote on stripping Dr. Lothar Kipke of the award he received from the international federation and global regulator of aquatics back in the 1980s as a member of the FINA Medical Commission and a key protagonist in the Sporting Crime of the 20th Century.

Kipke, now 92, tub-thumped for clean sport one side of the Berlin Wall but on the other was to be found ramming needles full of steroids in the backsides of young girls as part of State Research Plan 14:25. You can read more about that in the lines below.

FINA has been invited on several occasions down the years to deal with one of the darkest chapters in its history. At every turn, leaders have shied away from doing so, or, as is now suggested, have failed to provide the checks and balances that were essential during the long 35-year tenure of Cornel Marculescu as director and later executive director.

It was January 2014 when the FINA Press Commission voted unanimously in favour of asking the ruling Bureau to consider a reconciliation plan that would rid the federation of its lingering connections with any of the officials still holding honours for their “services to swimming” despite having been found guilty of a variety of crimes during Germany’s 1998-2000 doping trials.

That proposal was handed to then Bureau liaison to the Commission, Tamas Gyarfas with notes and links to the petition signed by scores of world-class swimmers and others calling for reconciliation and recognition for those denied and harmed by East Germany’s unchecked systematic doping program. Somewhere between liaison and the office of Marculescu, the document vanished.

Husain Al-Musallam – going to work on reform

A member of the Bureau at the time, Al-Musallam tells me that he was unaware of any of that and had never been alerted in any meeting of the top table to the name Dr Lothar Kipke. He now knows and, credit to him, pledged an “immediate” response to a matter he acknowledged was “a big problem” that FINA had to rid itself of at this turn of the governance tide.

Horrid is the history of it all, including Olympic plunder, a lifetime of ruined health and consequence and the torture of what might have been if it had not been for the and statistics such as 98 out of 102 gold medals and 93% of all medals won in women’s racing at European Championships between 1974 and 1989. The writing was nailed to the wall by every passing clock that stopped in times swum by swimmers subjected to high and regular dosages of Oral Turinabol and other substances, in pills and injections. The drugs were not just for the elite whose names we came to know, whose names flooded and remain a part of the book of records and results of swimming between 1973 and 1989 and to this day carry no asterisk nor explanation required if the reader is to know the truth that ought to be told in the official record.

Now we see a glimmer of hope and what it might come to if swimming leaders reach for the cultural shift being called for by Al-Musallam during a process of reform that will reach its first voting test in December as the first of several waves of change and review wash through the sport.

In an interview with The Times with this author, Al-Musallam pledged to “fix it” and will ask the Bureau next month to back a clean-up in the ranks of award winners when it comes to those with criminal convictions for harming athletes.

in a statement after The Times broke the news this morning, FINA noted:

“Fina understands the concerns of athletes who have competed against others subsequently proved to have cheated.

“Athletes work their entire lives for a mere chance to compete for a medal, yet alone win one. So when athletes are denied the reward they worked so hard to achieve, Fina must do everything it can to right this wrong. 

“Fina is committed to building aquatic sport on the strongest possible foundations. This is why Fina has begun a wide-ranging process of reform, part of which is the proposal – already approved by the Fina Bureau – for the creation of an independent Aquatics Integrity Unit.

“Once established, the independent Aquatics Integrity Unit will investigate the matter to determine what recourse may be taken in support of Ms Davies and all similarly-situated other aquatics athletes.”

Bravo! That’s cultural shift on the move.

The door to the FINA office, say Al-Musallam and Brent Nowicki, the new director of FINA, is open to stakeholders in aquatics and others who may have contributions to make on the road to reform. Both men appear to be sincere in their wedded-ness to making FINA fit for purpose and prioritising the interests of its prime asset: athletes.

Al-Musallam makes no promises that a silver medal will be converted to gold, 4th to first, 6th to bronze and so on, for he cannot, some of that beyond his control. The IOC must also go with that flow. What he can do is set precedent in swimming, make the sport a shining light, set the right tone, do the right thing, press for good outcomes in areas he and others supporting the reforms at FINA can control.

Reconciliation is in his gift. While such a process requires care and time and, most importantly, discussion with the athletes in the frame, most of whom have been ignored along with their plight, physiological and physical harm, it would free be like removing a ball and chain from the ankle of a sport that has drowned in the sorrow of preventable damage.

The Times today

There are few bigger tests in the alchemy of word to deed that this lot, published exclusively in The Times today:

… and from the archive for those who need reminding:

GDR 30 Years On: The Day In 1989 The Berlin Wall Came Tumbling Down On Doping Regime

Such reminders in one nation will spark similar reminders in many others the world over: generations of athletes saw a systematically doped army come, conquer and then get away with it even after the terrible truth was known. A big problem – but not insurmountable if we stick to the facts and reach for the simplest remedies.

Sharron Davies, who might have spent the past 41 years as an Olympic and European champion had it not been for Kipke and Co, tells The Times that gatekeepers such as the IOC and FINA need not even get involved in shadow awards for those denied: if there is a will, they can simply grant permission to domestic sports authorities to proceed with recognition ceremonies for a sense of justice being done without retribution and making victims of victims all over again.

Imagine how good it would be to acknowledge, recognise and move on, free to call yourself World Aquatics or whatever swimming hearts desire without the shadow of a FINA and more ethical day that never came on the watch of the previous administrations going back to the beginning of the World Championships in 1973 and the first flush of Oral Turinabol in the pool.

Imagine seeing Dutch ace Enith Brigitha being recognised as the first black swimmer ever to claim Olympic gold. 1976. 100m freestyle. That’s what it would mean. Imagine the good that might have done 40 years before Simone Manuel became the first black woman to claim Olympic gold in the pool when she shared the win with Canadian Penny Oleksiak in the 100m freestyle in Rio; and 12 years before Anthony Nesty claimed the 100m butterfly crown for Surinam as the first black Olympic gold medal winner in the pool.

Imagine … perhaps you needn’t say I’m a dreamer…

The bulk of energy in the FINA reform process will be devoted to the future, to the building of a vision of what aquatics might look like in 10 and 20 years and then building the blocks required to make it happen, say Al-Musallam and Nowicki. Entirely understandable.

The past, of course, does not disappear – and no ethical organisation leaves its wounded bleeding on the floor in a bombed out building when it has a new home to go to.

Al-Musallam is conscious of the need to clean up those dark corners from the past, the Kipke in the cupboards, so to speak. FINA cannot move on by changing its name: when World Athletics was born, track and field ran past the tainted part of the history of the IAAF but Seb Coe also realised and then committed to changes that were unthinkable before his rise to the helm and the establishment of an Integrity Unit that would remove doping and other areas of drain and dispute from the politics and daily running of a federation that has suffered in its often disastrous efforts to juggle two incompatible roles: policeman and promoter.

They just don’t belong in the same place.

Al-Musallam is now putting to the test the very FINA leaders who have resisted change and reform but are now being given an opportunity to show their true colours by either embracing the cultural shift underway or trying to wriggle and worm their way around it.

There is a long way to go in the reform process but the current commitments and shift in gear are encouraging and, it seems, we may soon be able to report that FINA is no longer a place in which Kipke and folk of that ilk can hide from their sins of the past.

At last.

Better late than never. The world of water and well beyond is watching.

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