German Doping Trials

Will The Big Guys Ever Pay?


Karin Helmstaedt

BERLIN-After the historic doping trial of East German swimming coaches and doctors ground to an anti-climactic halt in December of last year, it now looks like some of those really responsible may be summoned back to the courtroom.

At long last, Manfred Ewald, the despotic former head of East German sport, has been indicted for his role in setting up a program for the systematic distribution of male hormones to young athletes.

The doctor responsible for overseeing East Germany's drug program, Dr. Manfred Hoeppner, was also indicted. Both men are charged with being accessories to grievous bodily harm through the drugs in cases involving 142 female athletes (swimmers and track and field athletes). Thirty-two of these athletes have pressed charges.

Many of them reportedly suffered lasting side effects from the anabolic steroids, including hormonal disturbances and the development of male characteristics such as excessive hair or muscle growth. A few women still suffer from menstrual and gynecological problems.

Between 1970 and 1990 some 10,000 East German athletes, many of them females under 18, were doped to the gills with anabolic steroids and other preparations. Now two of the men primarily responsible on political ideological, and practical levels may go before the court in Berlin. The difficult task of proving their guilt will be undertaken with proof in a measly 142 cases. Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the trial may be little more that a token attempt at moral justice.

But Michaele Blume, spokeswoman for the Berlin prosecutors, said it may be a while yet before a trial gets underway. "The indictment is very complicated, and if it comes to trial, it won't be until the end of this year or early next year," she said.

Berlin prosecutors have convicted and/or fined several coaches and sports doctors of giving performance-enhancing drugs to underage athletes without their or their parents' knowledge. The charges were based on information from witnesses and from secret police files that came to light after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Prosecutors conducted the early trials in the hopes it would allow them to build a case against those responsible for setting up the drug program, which helped relatively small East Germany win dozens of gold medals at Olympics and other championships.

The 73-year-old Ewald, a former member of the East German communist party's central committee, was president of the East German Sports and Gymnastics Union from 1961 to 1988. He ran the country's sport system with an iron hand, ensuring the secrecy of doping practices and trumpetting the supremacy of socialism to the outside world.

Hoeppner, 65, headed the East German Sports Medicine Service's division for performance athletics from 1978 to 1990. He was responsible for the actual distribution of the drugs and directed their administration in sports centres nationwide.

Berlin authorities are investigating a further 500 people suspected to have been involved in the doping system, but will likely indict only those considered to be involved in particularly serious cases. Others who may go to trial include the former swimming federation doctor, Lothar Kipke, and the former national swim coaches, Wolfgang Richter and Juergen Tanneberger.

If and when any of the trials become a reality, it will be none too soon. A statute of limitations on doping crimes of October 2000 is approaching at an alarming rate. Time lost for the court is won by the defendants-if the first instance verdict isn't reached by then, Hoeppner and Ewald can consider their past officially behind them.