Olympic VP Coates Gives World Aquatics Green Light To Trigger Action On GDR Doping Era

2024-03-18 8 comments Reading Time: 7 minutes
Olympic 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 Olympic doping in Stern Magazin in 1990

The International Olympic Committee has removed another stumbling block in the interminable fight to recognise athletes who were cheated out of medals by East Germany’s state doping regime.

In the latest twist in a decades-old saga, the IOC has given a tentative green light for International federations to go ahead with reconciliation plans that could lead to shadow medals being issued to those denied their rightful rewards and recognition at the 1976, 1980 and 1988 Olympic Games. 

The Times revealed earlier this month that Thomas Bach, the IOC president, turned the key in a door locked since the GDR became extinct in 1990. Where previous leaders had given a firm “no” to all appeals for justice in the face of overwhelming, documented evidence of East German’s state-secret doping of an estimated 15,000 athletes, mainly in Olympic sports, Bach has praised the fight for justice in the forward to a book launched to the public in Sydney last Saturday.

He notes in “Turning the Tide”, the story of Australian Olympic champion swimmer Michelle Ford told by the Olympic 800m freestyle champion, co-written with this author and featured as part of the Manly Writer’s Festival here in Australia at the weekend: “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.”

In 1981, a year after claiming gold as the only western woman in the pool to defeat the East German medals machine in Moscow, Ford was a member of the first athletes’ group to be invited to speak to the IOC along with Bach and Britain’s Sebastian Coe, now head of World Athletics. They urged the IOC to impose lifetime bans on doping cheats. 

That was only achieved in cases involving multiple offences and other extreme examples of cheating but the GDR era, for which there is vast library of evidence to proven systematic and specific fraud, including the long-term use of an IOC-accredited laboratory as a facility to hide not catch doping, remains the official record of a range of Olympic sports. 

Now, John Coates, the Australian vice-president of the IOC, has followed Bach’s backing for Ford and a fight she shares with Olympic medallists Britain’s Sharron Davies and American ace of 1976 Wendy Boglioli at the helm of FAIR (Female Athletes for Integrity and Resolution), with confirmation that international federations committed to righting the wrongs of the past have been waiting for.

Coates said that while there are currently no plans to retrospectively present Olympic medals to any athletes who missed out, the IOC would not interfere with other sporting federations that chose to award medals for their own events, such as world and European championships.

Any issue of shadow medals beyond the Olympic Games would add a new accolade to Davies’ long list of achievements: in 1977 over 400m medley, she would have become the youngest European swimming champion in history, at 13 years of age. 

For Boglioli, shadow medals would make her Olympic 100m butterfly champion to add to the most famous American Olympic swimming relay gold of all time: the 4x100m freestyle in which the USA women claimed gold ahead of the ‘invincible’ East Germans, a victory that became the subject of the documentary “The Last Gold“.

Olympic Bosses Exchange GDR Doping Notes With World Aquatics

Coates confirmed that the IOC has held talks with World Aquatics and while emphasising that there are currently no plans to retrospectively present Olympic medals to any athletes who missed out, he confirmed that the IOC would not block any decisions made by international federations such as World Aquatics and World Athletics, both of which have made a commitment to reconciliation and recognition for the victims of the victims of GDR doping.

“We wouldn’t stop them,” Coates said. “It’s their responsibility. But the IOC, and I think there’s been discussions (although) I wasn’t involved in them, have just pointed out the risk that you run in exposing yourself.”

The IOC’s stance on the GDR has long been a three-line whip in Olympic sport but in 2022 in an interview with The Times and SOSHusain 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

Coates Coats Green Light In Red Flags

Also president of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Coates sent a thinly-veiled warning to sports about potential repercussions of any telling of old truths.

“That’s their call but they have to understand and I believe they do understand that they might be exposing themselves legally,” Coates said. They’ve got the problem too that they are signatory to the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) Code. So they’ve got that and then they’ve also got the problem that the damage they may be doing to the reputation of the one who has the medal.”

Davies calls Coates’ warnings “a complete red herring”. She says: “Germany dealt with all of this in its own courts more than 20 years ago and the evidence led to criminal and other types of convictions among doctors, politicians, coaches and others. The IOC has not dealt with matters within its jurisdiction but keeps trotting out this line about possible legal action from former East Germans.

“I can tell them now that the risk of being sued is far more likely to come from the rest of us, generations of women kicked to the curb by the use of male steroids given to young girls to promote a communist state. They were abused and paid a price in poor health but most lived to see some form of justice being done but we’ve had nothing of the kind. 

“We are not asking for medals to be taken away. We just want recognition of our finishing places on a result sheet without the GDR in precisely the same way as the precedent set by the IOC in the case of American Jim Thorpe and its redistribution program “Take The Podium”, which reallocates medals if and when frozen anti-doping test samples reveal cheating retrospectively.”

Thorpe’s case knocks the “statute of limitations”, oft-cited by the IOC, for six:  the American all-rounder won two golds in 1912; was stripped of them a year later under the “Amateur Rule” he was said to have broken because he had accepted a fee for playing league baseball in 1909; was elevated got sharing the gold four decades later after his death; and then in 2022 was given the golds outright, the rest demoted back to their original 1912 places. 

Under the WADA Code, there was an eight-year statute of limitations for any action to be taken on redressing doping offences. The 2021 Code has extended that to 10 years but that rule falls shy of what many athletes believe to be the required deterrent: no limitation on cheating, of any kind, including the moist heinous sorts, such as systematic state doping, then and now.

The IOC, despite a wave of evidence in the German language ever since Bach became an IOC member in 1991, spent the 1990s requesting ‘more information’. When the doping trials ended and WADA was born, it then cited the stature of limitations.

See comments for a hint at the kind of official resistance to truth-telling that women endured throughout the 1990s well within any statute of limitations and at a time when the IOC and NOCs could and should have acted within their jurisdiction, the evidence off mass cheating and rule breaking overwhelming, in the context of sports rules, constitutions and the Olympic Charter alone:

Doping: Von Forschung Zum Betrug … from Research To Fraud, by Brigitte Berendonk, published in 1991 with the facts and the figures and the horrible truth the IOC, FINA et al chose to do nothing about

Some key people in the OM have raised continuous objections and obstructions for several years. When evidence available in the Stasi files was published in English for the first time, those responsible received a great deal of personal abuse.

Michele Verroken – see comments…

“The statute of limitations of eight years binds all of the signatories,” Coates said. “But if you put that to one side, the difficulty you have, and I know this was considered in swimming recently with their world championships when you say, ‘we’ll give out medals to anyone who finished behind an … East German’ then you are opening yourselves to litigation from the other person.”

“Is it enough that your name is in the Stasi file when there’s no test? Is it enough?” Coates asks.

Davies notes: “He’s not taking into account the Thorpe case, in which the whole process involved asking National Olympic Committees and even families of medallists, through the NOC, how they felt. The IOC is simply saying ‘no’ because they find it too tricky and value their own interests above the suffering of generations of women denied the recognition and lifelong opportunities they would otherwise have had.”

Coates also notes: “So, did these athletes from East Germany who we read took drugs know they were taking drugs that were on prescribed lists? Did they know? Or did they just do what they were told? It’s very complex.”

No more complex, of course, than the case of Kamila Valieva, the Russian figure skater who was stripped of the Olympic gold she might have won at 15 in 2022. In her testimony, Valieva said she had never knowingly taken a banned substance – and yet she was banned for four years for a positive test in the build-up to the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.

The same has been true down the decades in many other suspensions in which a young athlete is penalised but no adult involved shared responsibility.

Coates insisted, however: “If swimming suddenly went out and gave everyone a second medal, then the ones who had the first medal might say, ‘look, I was good, show me otherwise. That’s an insult to me and you’ve damaged my reputation,“ 

That fails to acknowledge the fact that hundreds of East German athletes pressed for their sports guardians to be prosecuted and provided the testimony that led to convictions. 

“None of those people are likely to say ‘it never happened and I don’t want anyone else to be recognised,” says Davies. “The IOC is just stalling. We want justice and the IOC needs to hear our athlete voices, our women’s voices, and open the process of inquiry they have denied us for decades.”

Editorial: Will Bach, Coates, Coe and Co become the latest generation of IOC leaders to ensure the harm done to women in the 1970s and 80s remains an open wound the Olympic Movement failed to heal on their watch and under their jurisdiction?

Or will they not only talk the good talk and boast of parity in Paris and much else supposed to signify better times for females in sport but actually embrace the only legacy with having on that score and become the leaders that achieved reconciliation and finally laid to rest the ghosts of a shameful, misogynistic and dark past?

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8 thoughts on “Olympic VP Coates Gives World Aquatics Green Light To Trigger Action On GDR Doping Era”

    Some key people in the OM have raised continuous objections and obstructions for several years.
    When evidence available in the Stasi files was published in English for the first time, those responsible received a great deal of personal abuse.
    Franke and Berendonk’s visits to the UK and presentations to the UK sports and scientific communities were compelling accounts of organised cheating and athlete exploitation. This evidence was presented to the German courts and was sufficient to support criminal prosecutions.
    The statute of limitations under the 2021 Code is now 10 years – but does it matter, cheating is cheating! Athletes deserve better!

    Thank you Michele… you were one of those good people insisting on truth being told … and your successful efforts to get Werner Franke and Brigitte Berendonk to Britain and deliver their explosive findings (some available in German as early as 1991, when Thomas Bach became an IOC member) made a huge contribution to exposing in English the depth of depravity of the fraud. Eternal shame to those in senior positions who resisted your efforts.

    Thank you, Craig!

    Your continued focus on this subject is unparalleled. There is no other journalist that has your ability to connect all the dots on this matter.

    You are the stonecutter who smacked this stone hundreds of times until it split knowing that it was not the last blow that did it, but all that went before.

    All of the International swim meets that happened during that time period where the East German women competed in should be included in the consideration. Period!

    Dear Craig, congratulations on the beautiful article about the doping of East Germans, I wanted to say that it is also important to understand that there was doping among men, or does anyone believe that only DDR women were doping at that time? That’s why we athletes from Brazil’s men’s 800 freestyle relay have been seeking the disqualification of the East German men’s team for years and we understand that all East German athletes should be removed from the podiums at the Montreal and Moscow Olympics. We have been fighting about this for many years and we have the help of a great former swimmer from Indiana University and current resident in Germany, Steve Selthoffer, who has been searching for files and evidence and guiding us on how to proceed with the International Olympic Committee to try to make amends , which if successful would benefit all other harmed swimmers.
    Djan Madruga, bronze medalhes in Moscow

    Thanks Djan. Yes, no question that it did affect men… the emphasis on women is simply because almost every podium at every level the GDR swam at was affected in women’s racing … the impact of male steroids on women was far greater… the GDR won far far fewer men’s medals … but, yes, men affected should be recognized – kind regards, Craig

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