BERLIN-After over four years of research and investigations, the festering issue of the systematic doping of underage athletes in the former German Democratic Republic will finally be dealt with.
In late summer or early fall, 15 people will be prosecuted in Berlin for their involvement in the State-organized doping system. No names have been released, but based largely on findings in former Secret Police (Stasi) files, those on the hit list include former coaches, sport doctors, and bureaucrats, many of whom worked in connection with the SC Dynamo and TSC Berlin swim clubs.
But time is running short if authorities from the Zentralen Ermittlungstelle Regierungs-und Vereinigungskriminalitt (ZERV-central investigations office for government and unification crimes) expect to act effectively on the issue: a statute of limitations exists for the beginning of legal proceedings for doping infractions resulting in bodily harm. A recent announcement that investigations will now extend further than Berlin to include all "new" states of the unified Germany (i.e. former GDR States) is a reassuring sign that investigators have a strong case, but if the ball is not rolling by December 31 of this year, those under scrutiny can break out the champagne.
Among others, swimming coaches Dieter Lindemann, the former coach of German freestyle star Franziska van Almsick, and Volker Frischke, coach of former Wundermdchen Daniela Hunger (a double gold medallist at the 1988 Olympics) and Kerstin Kielgass, are expected to have to take the stand. Both men are currently-and controversially-employed as coaches at the High Performance Support Centre of the unified Germany in Berlin. Court proceedings are expected to last at least 4 to 6 weeks based on the assumption that many of those accused will plead not guilty.
With the first series of hearings in Berlin, ZERV investigators hope to climb the GDR sport hierarchy so that those responsible for the doping of children and youth all over the country are also brought to justice. According to the chief prosecutor, Christoph Schaefgen, if the right momentum is achieved in Berlin, proceedings will eventually get underway against Manfred Ewald and Klaus Eichler, both former presidents of the GDR Sports Federation. Schaefgen maintains that the ZERV can prove the existence of a State-controlled doping plan in all sports, from sailing to swimming to rhythmic gymnastics.
Young athletes in the GDR were deliberately doped according to a centralized plan and without their knowledge; drugs were administered under the guise of "vitamin preparations."
Berlin District Attorney Rdiger Hillebrand has said that as many as 512 people are being actively investigated, and 12 people have filed claims for personal damages. But last April he declared that a total solution to the GDR doping legacy and its aftermath was "altogether impossible." It would require the investigation of thousands of former GDR athletes, and hundreds of doctors and functionaries. Taking only the paperwork into account, his staff could simply not handle such numbers.
The salient assumption of the Berlin prosecution is that young athletes in the GDR were deliberately doped according to a centralized plan and without their knowledge; drugs were administered under the guise of "vitamin preparations." Those responsible are potentially guilty of bodily harm according to Article 223 of the Civil Code.
The ZERV's case is built on a combination of materials secured from searches-conducted in May 1996-of the houses of former coaches, doctors, bureaucrats and scientists, as well as over 30,000 files from the GDR Sports Medicine Service. Pertinent written documents were also seized from the famous Kreischa laboratory.
In March, investigators sent over 500 questionnaires to former GDR high performance athletes. Among the questions asked were "During your athletic career, were you ever given substances, the effects of which were unknown to you?", "Have you experienced any health problems or a decline in your bodily well-being?" and "Should this be the case, do you wish to press charges?"
The Berlin proceedings should indicate whether the alleged dopers, once the foundation of the GDR sport system, can actually be found guilty in a court of law.
It is a tall order as several tricky details could prevent this: the prosecution must prove, without a doubt, that those accused were acting according to a plan and in clear knowledge of that plan. They must show that coaches knew that many of the substances they administered to their athletes were harmful to the athletes' health. In such a totalitarian environment, it is possible that many in responsible positions were not informed of doping practices; some truly seemed to believe that the substances injested by or injected into athletes were harmless vitamin preparations.
But the greatest irony lies in the following: that "doping" as a practice was strictly forbidden in the former GDR. The court must then also assure, in every case, that the accused were aware of the fact that their actions were against the law.
The possible scenarios are anywhere from frightening to absurd. What kind of travel or material privileges did a coach risk by not following the prescribed program? What kind of pressures were used to ensure the success of GDR athletes? Will medical doctors, already devoid of credibility, try to justify their actions by claiming their belief that the chemical manipulation of performances was good for the State?
Only time will tell, and due to the dragging out of investigations by the State, time is a problem. The prosecution will concentrate on the period dating from 1975-1989, and that time falls further and further into the past. For the sake of the victims of an abominable system, let's hope the elapsed time factor has no adverse effect on materials brought forward by the prosecution or on witness's statements. We already know that the memory of those indicted will be selective.
Other sources: NOK-Report Nr. 6/97: Justiz steht bei Doping-prozessen unter Zeitdrck, by Holger Schck; Sddeutsche Zeitung.