Olympic Bosses Face Prospect Of Class Action If They Oppose Truth & Reconciliation Plea On GDR Doping

2022-06-18 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

Olympic bosses face the prospect of a class action from victims of the GDR Doping era of the 1970s and 1980s if they do not support a proposal for a truth and reconciliation process from leading women athletes.

More than 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and confirmation of the depth and detail of deception at the heart of “State Research Plan 14:25“, East Germany’s systematic doping program, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) continues to cite the “statute of limitations” as its sole reason for taking no action on the biggest heist in sports history.

Sharron Davies, the Olympic silver medallist for Britain behind East Germany’s Petra Schneider over 400m medley in 1980 when she was 17, confirmed to The Times that she and several other Olympic champions and medallists have sought advice from “leading counsel” over what she called the IOC’s “failure to act on the massive amount of evidence of state-organised cheating … against the rules and the spirit of the Olympic Charter and constitution”.

“Quite a few of us campaigning for the IOC to do the right thing believe the case for a class action is very strong. It’s not what we want, just what we feel we’re being left no choice over,” added Davies, who finished 10 seconds behind Schneider, whose World-record winning time from Moscow 42 years ago remains the (reunified) German record.

Now, a sorority of leading women swimmers from the 1970s and 80s, are compiling the evidence of the GDRs’s systematic cheating that they note was available to the IOC within any statute of limitations in academic literature, books, German state archives and media reports from 1991 onwards and convictions and other judgements handed down in German courts between 1998 and the close of the German Doping Trials in late 2000.

The chronology of events,

The petition, addressed to Thomas Bach, the German president of the IOC and fellow board members, calls for the IOC to grant permission for International Federations such as FINA and National Olympic Committees to issue medals recognising the finishing places of those who ended up behind athletes proven to have been pawns in the GDR’s state doping plan, should that course of action be recommended by an Integrity Unit.

East German doping and results and records have never been revisited by governing bodies despite the overwhelming nature and massive scale and scope of the GDR’s deception and abuse of young athletes. The campaign group does not seek remove medals from the GDR women who as young girls were doped without their knowledge, with life-long health consequences for many of them, some of whom received compensation from a ring-fenced fund for doping victims running to tens of millions of euros signed into law by the German Bundestag.

However, the petitioners tells the IOC:

“The other side of the coin has been far less visible. There has been neither compensation nor even official acknowledgement of the damage done to generations of girls and women robbed by the GDR doping system of their rightful honours and the status and rewards they might have expected throughout life had their true achievements in sport been recognised.”

Petitioners on GDR Doping

The campaigners wish to retain a degree of anonymity as a group until they have had the chance to present the facts and their request for a truth and reconciliation process to the new Aquatics Integrity Unit about to be declared “open for business” by FINA, the global regulator for swimming, this weekend in Budapest as the World Championships get underway at the Duna Arena.

The history of the FINA long-course (50m, Olympic pool) showcase highlights the dominance of the East German women’s medals machine that fuelled teenage girls with Oral Turinabol and related anabolic substances. In the five World Championships between 1973 and 1986, GDR women swimmers claimed more than 60 percent of all medals, including gold, many in World record well ahead of their time.

The IOC’s stance on the GDR has long been a three-line whip in Olympic sport but late last year in an interview with The Times and SOS, Husain Al-Musallam, president of FINA, expressed empathy with women affected. In keeping with the spirit of reform underway at FINA, he said:

“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. 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.”

Husain Al-Musallam – Image courtesy of FINA

Among fellow members of the current top table of FINA is Canadian lawyer Cheryl Gibson, who, like Davies in Moscow, claimed Olympic silver over 400m medley at a home Games in Montreal in 1976, the title won by East Germany’s Ulrike Tauber in a then off-the-chart World record.

In the flow of reform at FINA since June 2021 elections that ended three terms in office for Uruguayan IOC member and octogenarian Julio Maglione in the wake of Cornel Marculescu’s departure as director after 35 years, FINA leaders voted to strip Lothar Kipke, the GDR doctor at the heart of the state doping program at a time when he served as a member of the FINA Medical Commission in the 1980s, of the honour bestowed on him for “services to swimming” almost four decades ago.

Doping Positive tests never reported

Olympic champions Kristin Otto and Heike Friedrich were among those named in documents as having tested for elevated testosterone counts that would have resulted in an adverse finding had they been reported as doping cases in the late 1980s.

The GDR’s State Plan 14:25 produced thousands of positive doping tests among athletes across many sports, the list including a Who’s Who of Olympic champions and medallists in swimming.

All of the positives were covered up by the IOC-accredited laboratory at Kreischa in Saxony, while no GDR swimmer ever tested positive in international competition.

The laboratory at the heart of East German cheating was a small facility not much larger than an average garden shed. It sat in the grounds of the much larger clinic to which swimmers and others who tested positive for doping were sent to get “cleaned up” after they returned positive tests.

Christiane Knacke, who in 1977 was the first women ever to race inside one minute over 100m butterfly, almost 30 years before a British woman raced at that pace, describes how she and Petra Thumer, 1976 Olympic 400 and 800m champion, were pulled out of line at the border to West Germany waiting with the GDR team bound for the World Championships in West Berlin in1978. “We were driven to Kreischa (2.5-3 hrs south) and made to spin on static bikes and told to drink lots of water for two days to see if they could make the risk of a positive test go away,” Knacke told me in 2006. Time ran out, the two stayed home and reporters in West Berlin were told that one swimmer had a heavy cold and the other had slipped in the shower and injured herself.

Knacke and East German former teammate and World champion Renate Vogel travelled to Lausanne just a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall to meet then IOC president Juan Samaranch. They handed him their medals and asked for them to be given “to the women who deserve them”. Samaranch, they say, pushed the medals back as he replied: “Keep them. You weren’t the only ones.”

The reconciliation campaign group argues that GDR athletes were the only ones whose state recorded the crime in great detail and the evidence of that is, says Davies “indisputable”. The 1990s ended with a wave of convictions in the German Doping Trials, with Knacke and Schneider among those who testified against doctors and coaches. Even then, the IOC took no action and began to cite the “statute of limitations”.

SOS understands that some old-guard IOC members continue to be adamant that there will be no change from the stance the organisation has taken for three decades: the evidence will be ignored, no action will be taken and the likelihood that “others” also cheated.

That stance makes no sense in the context of much more recent events: the systematic nature of doping in Russia, exposed almost a decade ago led to inquiries and two whole-nation suspensions. Since then, the warm relationship that sports organisations such as the IOC and FINA courted with Vladimir Putin has come to a dramatic end, the Russian president waging war on Ukraine stripped of the Olympic Order and the FINA Order.

Meanwhile, a decades-old approach to the crimes of the GDR appears to live on in the minds and arguments of some despite the abuse of many thousands of under-age athletes in sports such as swimming.

The IOC has been approached for comment but has yet to respond.

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