Olympic Leaders Must Back Reconciliation & Recognition Process Over GDR Doping Era

Olympic Leaders Must Back Reconciliation & Recognition Process Over GDR Doping Era

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Olympic Leaders Must Back A Truth, Reconciliation & Recognition Process On the East German Doping Era

Dear Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, and fellow members of the IOC,

We the undersigned call on you to support and engage with International Federations in a process of truth, reconciliation and recognition for all those whose health (physical and mental), welfare, personal development and lives in general have been and continue to be affected in negative ways by the GDR doping era.

Over the past three decades, the world has heard much about the harm done to the victims of GDR-doping abuse. The evidence of mass systematic doping through a program called State Research Plan 14:25, was compiled and published throughout the 1990s and then used to convict coaches, doctors, politicians and others charged with harm to minors, during the German Doping Trials of 1998-2001.

The cheating was kept a state secret by scientists and others working at the IOC-accredited laboratory in Kreischa, Saxony. Rather that analyse anti-doping samples to catch cheating, the laboratory was used to make sure that no East Germany athlete left the country if there was a risk of them testing positive in International competition abroad. 

The victims included prepubescent girls and young teenagers who rose to the heights of sports such as swimming fuelled on a diet of anabolic steroids. Many paid a high price through ill-health suffered as a consequence of being fed substances administered purely to enhance sporting performance and in the absence of any medical need to take those substances. Millions of euros have so far been paid out in compensation by the German Government working with the country's Doping Victims Help organisation. 

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.

While the IOC has shown empathy with GDR athletes by allowing results to stand even though it has been proven that the results were achieved through doping, the organisation and its affiliate international federations have shown no such empathy for the athletes denied their rightful rewards and status in life.  

Those women, together with parents and coaches, were all too often written up as failures after they finished outside the medals behind three East Germans, for example. In fact, many should have been recognised as supreme athletes of their day. They have been the hidden victims of the darkest chapter in Olympic sport in the 20th century, a doping era in which systematic deception took place at every passing competition in plain sight.

Among major consequences of that lack of any official acknowledgement and reconciliation and recognition is this: the IOC was long seen as an organisation that, in the face of overwhelming evidence of the depth of the GDR's systematic cheating revealed as early as 1991, would rather turn a blind eye than take action against the perpetrators, recognise the harm done to all athletes involved, as well as their extended families and those, like coaches, who worked with them.

Many of the athletes who competed in the GDR-doping era suffer from psychological trauma to this day. They feel as though their true identities were stolen or, at the very least, never recognised, their achievements never rewarded.

At a time of reform, FINA, the international aquatics federation, has indicated its support for looking at the issues with a view to reconciliation and healing so that all can finally move on. This week, as the World Aquatics Championships get underway in Budapest, FINA is set to announce appointments of staff and voluntary officers for the new Aquatics Integrity Unit.

The FINA leadership has already made clear its support for allowing athletes and others affected by the GDR Doping era to submit their case and evidence in support of a truth, reconciliation and recognition process aimed at healing the harm wrought in the swimming community by the mass deception of the East German doping program. 

Among those backing this petition are Olympic champions, podium placers, finalists, their coaches, families, media and more, people who will provide a case file for submission to the Aquatics Integrity Unit when it opens its doors for business, in keeping with the IOC's "Vision" agendas at the heart of Herr Bach's presidency. 

The request we make to the IOC is intended to achieve something akin to the South African truth and reconciliation process. While apartheid and mass systematic doping are not comparable, sport has a great many valuable lessons to learn from the work of Rev. Desmond Tutu and others who worked on South African reconciliation after decades of discrimination and hatred had been a part of official policy in their country.

In that spirit, we the undersigned would like you, the IOC leadership, to agree to and support the following Ten-Point process in support of athlete welfare, justice and a commitment to promoting clean sport and Fair Play:

  1. That the IOC drop any opposition to measures aimed at addressing the injustices of the GDR doping era on grounds that the “statute of limitations” stands in the way: such statutes are irrelevant in a reconciliation process 
  2. That the IOC acknowledge that proof of the GDR’s systematic doping program was available to the IOC in the 1990s in published evidence that would lead to convictions criminal and otherwise, of coaches, doctors, politicians and sports bureaucrats during the German Doping Trials of 1998-2000
  3. That the IOC acknowledge that the East German doping program was rolled out to many thousands of athletes, girls and women particularly affected because of the illegal administration of testosterone and related anabolic agents with the intent to androgenise female athletes and provide them with physical advantages associated with maleness in the context of competitive sport
  4. That the IOC acknowledge that the anti-doping laboratory at Kreischa in East Germany was used to cover-up large numbers of positive tests by East Germans, including Olympic champions in swimming alone, in the 1970s and 1980s
  5. That the IOC support International Federations (IFs) and their Independent Integrity Units in their efforts to make recommendations on truth, reconciliation and recognition measures related to the GDR doping era.
  6. That the IOC clarify its views and reasoning on whether or not medals should be removed from GDR athletes under any circumstances. 
  7. That the IOC support a plan, should Integrity Units accept that the case and evidence put to them demands reconciliation and recognition, to allow FINA (and other IFs) to draw up lists of shadow-podium awards that would recognise a revised finishing position in Olympic finals.
  8. That the IOC support any recommendation to have IFs and federations affiliated to them and/or National Olympic Committees stage ceremonies at which shadow prizes of recognition would be officially awarded to those denied their rightful place in Olympic history and the history of other events, in line with the spirit of the IOC’s popular “Take The Podium” program
  9. That the IOC strip all honours from GDR officials and instruct International federations to do likewise
  10. That the IOC and IFs find a mechanism in their history files and historic results that links to an explanation of the nature of State Research Plan 14:25, the scope for which is now far greater in the digital age, on the basis that a result sheet should not hide know truth about performances enhanced by doping. 

We the undersigned believe the steps we recommend would be a powerful and meaningful way to reconcile Olympic sports with the darkest chapter in their shared history in a spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation, sportsmanship and humanity. 

Herr Bach, history calls on you to act in the way the late Rev. Tutu and his fellow leaders in the reconciliation process in South Africa, acted in search of healing, forgiveness and a brighter pathway. The Rev. Tutu noted with a nod to his role in the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and an inquiry predicated on the fundamental principle “To forgive is not just to be altruistic, [but] it is the best form of self-interest”:

“Forgiveness is nothing less than the way we heal the world.We heal the world by healing each and every one of our hearts.The process is simple, but it is not easy. Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”

Here’s the kind of reference, from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, that tells the IOC why it must drop any further talk of statutes of limitation because reconciliation, not retribution, is the goal; that tells media reporting on the issue to do their homework and understand why they need to go back to the IOC and its lawyers and say “irrelevant, please consider the question again”.

As the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of South Africa final report put it: 

"The primary objective of the inquiry was to preach forgiveness in order to heal the emotions and wounds of hatred or anger that had been created by the apartheid system. There was no place for retaliation in the new society that emerged after independence. It was envisaged that “one who forgives becomes a better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred.” By the same token, it was also argued that “If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person too.” Nevertheless, the process of forgiveness also required acknowledgement on the part of the perpetrator that they have committed an offence. The Chairman of the Commission noted that he had actually “witnessed so many incredible people who, despite experiencing atrocity and tragedy, have come to a point in their lives where they are able to forgive.” Take the Cradock Four, for example. “The police ambushed their car, killed them in the most gruesome manner, set their car alight” in the Eastern Cape in 1984. When, at a TRC hearing, the teenage daughter of one of the victims was asked: “would you be able to forgive the people who did this to you and your family?” She answered, “We would like to forgive, but we would just like to know who to forgive.”

Acknowledgement of truth that has been there for all to see for at least three decades is the start of a pathway to healing.

Herr Bach and fellow members of the Olympic Committee, please find the courage to be the generation of IOC leaders that refused to turn a blind eye to the harm and suffering caused to athletes (the vast bulk of them women, as stated) by East Germany's State Research Plan 14:25.

How does one heal the wounds of the past, how to exorcise a ghost that haunts yet an entire community of athletes, parents, coaches and others in Olympic sport half a century after the deceit got underway in earnest in the GDR when politicians made the doping of young teenage girls with anabolic steroids official state policy?

GDR leaders also gave the IOC-accredited laboratory at Kreischa a licence to cheat the world by having scientists there collect positive doping tests with a view to hide the state secret rather than report cheating and deception.

Truth, reconciliation and recognition is a proven pathway to forgiveness and the ability to move on. 

On the IOC’s watch, in the realm of Olympic sport, generations of athletes, the vast majority of them girls and women, were physically, mentally and financially harmed by the GDR’s State Research Plan 14:25. While we know that athletes from other countries used doping (the record of positive tests is there to prove it) and there may well be suspicions of systematic doping beyond the GDR, the case of State Research Plan 14:25 is unique in that the evidence of the plan, the names and dosages of substances, the timing of doping administration, the identities off doctors, coaches, athletes, state security agents and more were recorded by the state in official documents.

Many were saved from the shredders when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and as such, this is not a case of suspicion but hard knowledge and facts, court cases, libraries of research and two Acts in the German Bundestag that triggered the payments of many millions of euros to a great many victims of East German doping, the latest action as recent as 2016, when a further euros 13.6 million was granted to the Doping Victims Help organisation in Germany.     

Among victims were those who were doped as young teenagers and, those who were beaten by those who were doped.

None of those women can be given their time over again but neither do the women who seek recognition want the GDR victims of doping to have their medals taken away. That reality in 2022 provides this generation of IOC leaders with a golden opportunity to set the record straight without doing further harm to those already harmed long ago and still feeling the heavy weight of injustice yet. Here is a chance for this generation of IOC members to show true leadership, with education and reconciliation lining the pathway to a brighter future for Olympic sports and their standing in the world. What a fine legacy that would be. 

Respectfully, we direct you to this petition, its requests and the views of those who agree that it is high time the IOC helped to heal the hurt that lingers on, painfully, half a century after doping and its consequences shaped Olympic sports, including Swimming and Track and Field.

Athletes are now working with others to collate a file case for submission to the Aquatics Integrity Unit. Here are a few among many links to resources to be submitted for consideration

Books:

  1. Doping: Von der Forschung zum Betrug (From Research To Fraud) - 1991 - Birgitte Berendonk - 
  2. Hormonal doping and androgenization of athletes: a secret program of the German Democratic Republic government. - W. Franke, B. Berendonk - July 1, 1997  
  3. Doping in der DDR: Ein historischer Überblick zu einer konspirativen Praxis. Genese - Verantwortung - Gefahren (1990-1998) - Giselher Spitzer  
  4. Goldkinder: Die DDR im Spiegel ihres Spitzensports - Grit Hartmann -1998, with contributions from Brigitte Berendonk, Werner W Franke, Heiner Humann, Klaus Reinartz, Giselher Spitzer and Hans J Teichler - 

Articles:

State of Swimming: GDR 30 Years On: The Day In 1989 The Berlin Wall Came Tumbling Down On Doping Regime - 2019.

 

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