This week delivered a hint of the height of IOC ambition in a gender equality plan, a statement about which ended with these words:
“With the adoption of Olympic Agenda 2020 in December 2014 and as reaffirmed by the IOC Executive Board last December, the IOC is committed to working with its stakeholders to increase the possibilities for girls and women in sport and to achieve the goal of female athletes representing 50 per cent of the athletes taking part in the Olympic Games.”
Is that it, then? Is that really what gender equality means: 50/50 participation?
Let’s hope not. After all, there’s so much to do, including dealing with a backlog of woe holding back progress and trust. The IOC tells us that a body called the “Gender Equality Project Working Group will develop recommendations and guidelines, and report its findings to the IOC’s Women in Sport and Athletes’ Commissions, with the final recommendations presented to the IOC Executive Board later this year”.
If they need a few hints as to where it has all gone wrong on gender in Olympic sport, they could do worse than start with the notion that women have been abused in high measure in the realm of the five rings for many decades. When it comes to some of the worse crimes in sport – sex and doping abuse atop the list – women have not only made up the vast bulk of victims but their plight has been largely ignored by men (overwhelmingly men) in blazers.
The IOC has been a touch better in recent times when it comes to women’s representation in governance than many of its member federations, such as FINA, one of the biggest beneficiaries of IOC/broadcast money. There’s parity of numbers in the pool and then there’s parity in governance to consider. We noted the following statistics on International Women’s Day this month:
The gender balance at the house of FINA:
|Bureau (the exec)||24||1|
|Tech Water Polo||17||0|
|Tech Open Water||17||1|
|Tech High Diving||14||2|
|Doping Control Review||7||1|
From which you might well conclude that the place women have been missing from down the decades and still to this day is not the field of competitive engagement but the corridors of power in international sport.
How has that manifested itself? Well, certainly not in ways helpful to women’s health, welfare, rights and equality. Far from it.
Take Lisa Curry. She’s been in the jungle. In some ways, the Australian’s been there for 37 years, wondering and wandering through an injustice that afflicted a great many in international sport thanks to a list of Olympic priorities that have failed to stretch to clean sport.
The last line of an article in Perth Now, one of several News Corp papers Down Under to print the jungle drum from Curry of late, screams volumes about the shift in the anti-doping debate down those four decades. For the bulk of them, the headline that was replaced on an article – saved in the sweet irony of a section called “Reality” – would have summed up the tone of a cold war in the pool:
“Curry: ‘I’ll get drug cheat’s medal”.
The emphasis is on the young teen doped from the age of 13 and living in a system that granted no information and no choice to swimmer nor parent alike. In their role as potential “ambassadors in tracksuits”, young athletes often selected for specific sports before they turned 10 (and first measured up at 6) were encouraged to see the positives in the flow they found themselves travelling as a result of the ticked box of a talent spotter: a life of health, ambition, competitive spirit, team, travel that would otherwsie not be possible – and for the stars, a leap up the queue for a new flat, a car and other privileges of their own day.
Those young women – and yes, men were doped, too, but Oral Turinabol is a substance used in sport to grant the female the male characteristics that are the very reasons why you won’t find a Phelps racing a Ledecky in the pool – were duped. They were cheated on, abused, their bodies poisoned with a spell of male characteristic on the female with a view to making victory over the other women an inevitable consequence of the “supporting means”. It came to be known for what it was: State Plan 14:25, a systematic doping program through which an estimated 10,000 athletes flowed.
There was deep suspicion in the days when deep voices represented some of the best of evidence that something was awry. Since the early 1990s, there has been the certainty of libraries of documentation and notes in Stasi (state police) files confirming not only that every name you knew and still do, courtesy of an Olympic and FINA world swimming results and records book unchanged by truth, was doped but that there were pools of others that we never knew who served as human guinea pigs in tests to find the perfect magic potion.
Add to that the evidence in German court procedures 1998 to 2000 and the criminal convictions that resulted and we can, without a shadow of a doubt, conclude that the IOC, FINA and those other guardians of their sport out there, from all the national to international federations that ever had a say, have been negligent in their constitutional obligation to serve athletes and deliver clean sport.
For the bulk of the quarter century or so since sources inside the GDR and Dr Werner Franke and his wife Brigitte Berendonk helped to save the stasi files from the shredders so that we may all know the truth, the issue has been dealt with as a war of words, often through the media, between victims on both sides, starting with that emphasis in the first saved take of the story Down Under: “Curry: ‘I’ll get drug cheat’s medal.”
The line, pitching teenage girl abused against teenage girl denied suited the likes of the International Olympic Committee, FINA and others down to the ground. As long as the debate focussed on swimmer against swimmer, victim against victim, the ability to treat the issue like water off a duck’s back was all the easier for that particular sporting creature: smooth sail of the blazer in the world of five-star hotels, fine restaurants, first-class travel and everything else, webbed feet churning in the tangled and murky depths of politics below the surface.
The women swimmers much abused have known the consequences of the latter. They have not known the world of five-star service at all.
A quick summary of the attitude of blazers – and I’ve heard a few of them say such things to me down the years – is to be found in the tale of Juan Samaranch, the former boss of the IOC, no less. He agreed to meet two GDR swimmers who wanted to hand their medals back. He pushed the orbs back across the desk at them and uttered words to the effect of “keep them, you weren’t the only ones”.
So, if the pool was poisoned, let it stay so. Let the history of the Olympics swim in the stuff. All for the best – especially if you live life in a blazer and want a comfortable life as a VIP with no responsibility for the children born with club feet and other disabilities, for the women who spent the past 40 years taking drugs for heart, liver, kidney, back and lung problems as a result of their life in the shop windows of the IOC and FINA.
And that is just the one side of the coin. The other is the experience of the Olympic class of Montreal 1976: Enith Brigitha, Kim Peyton, Shirley Babashoff, Shannon Smith, Rebecca Perrot, Rosemary Milgate, what might have been the Canadian backstroke sweep of Nancy Garapick, Wendy Hogg-Cook and Cheryl Gibson, Camille Wright, Wendy Quirk, Karen Moe, Donnalee Wennerstrom.
And from Moscow 1980, Conny Van Bentum, June Croft, Michelle Ford, Carine Verbauwen and Yolanda van der Straeten, Susanne Nielsson, Margaret Kelly, Ann Osgerby, Lisa Curry, Agneta Martensson, Dorota Brzozowska and Sharron Davies.
Caren Metschuk, Andrea Pollack and Christiane Knacke took the medals in the 100m butterfly at Moscow 1980. Britain’s Osgerby, Australia’s Curry and Sweden’s Martensson followed.
This past week, Curry told News Corp reporters:
“It has now been proven that all three of them (the East German swimmers) were on a drug system and therefore the English girl would get the gold medal and I would get the silver. All we really want is acknowledgment we deserve to have the medal because even at the last Olympics if someone was found guilty on a drug charge, they would take their medal off them and give it to the next person…so why not do it from previous Olympics?”
Knacke, the first woman to crack the minute over 100 ‘fly, was one of those who tried to hand her medal back but had her offer rejected by the IOC. Curry meanwhile, says:
“A lot of people tell me to get over it, but you train your whole life to try and win an Olympic medal.”
The generation of Montreal 1976 and Moscow 1980 account only for a few of those who never got to celebrate (factor in their coaches, parents and nations, too) their rightful places in swimming history. You will notice names you may never have heard of on that list above. They returned home unsung and medal-free, when they might well have been ultimate podium placers of their era and time. There were many more. In European waters, GDR’s women dominated the pool in devastating fashion if you happened to be a woman unassisted by doping. The generation of Sarah Hardcastle and Co were another school of women denied.
One Stasi document that shows tests taken on four women – three already Olympic champions by then – two weeks before racing at the 1989 European championships in Bonn produced readings massively over the allowable testosterone:epitestosterone limit. Between them the four women in question claimed six solo medals, four gold, a silver and a bronze in Bonn, while all four women contributed to a clean sweep of all three relay events for the GDR. Between 1970 and 1989, no other nation claimed a gold medal in women’s relays at the European championships.
The documents show cite Kristin Otto among those who produced internal positive tests. She is the IOC’s biggest gold-medal hauler among women in the pool – and remains celebrated for that status to this day.
All of which and much more is only counting what we know to be the fact of doping history, some of the detail of the current Russian doping crisis having roots deep enough to cast doubt on the past, too. Before me is an image of two packages of Oral Turinabol from the GDR era. One is in German from the source, Jenapharm; the other is in Russian, same product, same era.
The truth is, we will never fully know but that is no excuse for following the line of the IOC, FINA and other federations for many a long year: doing nothing at all.
Yes, immensely complex to sort out a past allowed to unfold by men wearing deliberate blindfolds and then compounded by men no longer blind but unwilling to face up to their role of responsibility in a story of abuse that spoke to anything but the high aims of the Olympic Charter.
It is precisely because you cannot change the past, however, that reconciliation is so important. Yet even that route has been avoided by blazers of the IOC, FINA and, indeed, national federations that could and should have done far more to represent the women athletes they were supposed to be serving and representing.
The California Senate in the United States took a giant leap with a resolution in 2016 that aims to have the IOC recognise the achievements of those knocked by State Plan 14:25.
Senate Resolution 88 urges the IOC to address the injustice of results gained through the use of performance-enhancing substances such as Oral Turinabol. The archive and evidence from Germany’s DDR doping trials of 1998-2000 – in which FINA silver pin holder to this day, Dr Lothar Kipke, was handed a criminal record – notes the names of generation after generation of swimmers fed doping between 1973 and 1989.
What Californian senators are trying to achieve is what neither the IOC, nor FINA nor USA Swimming have pressed for in 40 years. Not a single result, not a single record has been removed; not a single asterisk of truth and context placed in the book; not a single attempt made to recognise the victims on both sides; not a single effort to take the ‘services to swimming’ honours away from the rogues and abusers in the GDR who were subsequently handed criminal convictions.
Here’s what we’re talking about in a European context alone – 1974-1989 – European Championships, women:
- 99/105 gold medals to the GDR, including every relay possible (2 for URS, 1 each for Bulgaria, France and Romania – and that was it)
- 62/84 silvers to the GDR 16/84 bronzes to the GDR 156 medals were won out of a possible 168 podium places available to the GDR in solo events under the two-per-nation rule.
And all of them and many more among the girls you never heard of in the GDR who served as guinea-pigs and would later turn up in court for the 1999-2000 doping trials in Germany with their children – including the blind, those with club feet and other disabilities they were born with. Each a victim, too.
Reconciliation is the key
Recognition is essential
So, Gender Equality Project Working Group, over to you. Will you recall that woeful lot of women in your work? Will you recognise victims on both sides and find a way to acknowledge a past that the IOC, FINA et al have never dealt with in a fashion that comes anywhere close to delivering fairness and justice and those other Olympic qualities oft cited by the Movement?
Important to note that this is not just about the past. The picture we see from the days of the DDR has been replicated since, in the form of the one-off cheat, the rogue program and the China crisis of the 1990s that spills yet in the pool. In the depth of the longest lists of doping positives from a single nation in swimming – the GDR an unofficial internal list recording the dosages given to shoals of swimmers and the China list now nearer 100 deep than not – are young teenage girls plied with EPO, anabolic steroids, stimulants and diuretics.
Yuan Yuan, we recall, had 13 vials of hGh in her kit back at Sydney Airport, enough to fuel the entire China team for its three-week trip to the World Championships in Perth back in 1998.
At London 2012, we heard only ‘shame on you’ from IOC worthies when the media pointed out that Ye Shiwen, 16, spent several minutes in a locked toilet with a male member of China team staff just outside the call room before both the Olympic medley finals she would emerge from as victor.
What they should have asked is ‘how the hell is that possible at an Olympic Games’?
History whispers to us of a guarantee that what we know is not the half of it until we truly know.
The IOC, FINA and national federations have been left wanting by a country mile and more on the issues of women’s rights, health, welfare and interests for many a long decade.
It was January 2014 when the FINA Press Commission voted unanimously to ask the ruling FINA Bureau to consider reconciliation proposals that would honour those deprived of medals in the GDR era as well as the victims of abuse in the GDR. By October 2014, when I resigned from that committee because there was little point in speaking up in a place reserved for the deaf, FINA had not sent back its views. To this day, FINA’s leadership has not sent back its views. It still has several GDR officials at the heart of State Plan 14:25 on its lists of honourees. In keeping with that, it has not changed a single result or record in the history book despite the overwhelming evidence that the swimming account is stacked with the drive of deceit.
In Rio at the 2016 Olympics, the blazers left the point to be made by a 19-year-old woman, Lilly King and sat in silence as the drama, the booing and jeering unfolded, complete with another moment of athlete Vs athlete beyond the field of play in a battle that observed no gender boundaries. When Cornel Marculescu, the FINA director, did leap from his seat, it was not to congratulate Mack Horton on his fight and triumph in the 400m freestyle after he’d declared that those who test positive for doping ought not to be in the Games at all. No, instead, the director kept his energy for a few days later when he rushed over to Sun Yang*, the Chinese men’s 200m freestyle winner who in 2014 tested positive for a banned substance, and gave him a hug, man to man.
When the IOC and affiliates either let all the woe back into the pool for Rio 2016 or sat by and said nothing, while failing to follow the wishes of athletes through Olympian representatives, coaches, governments and many more worldwide, it was fairly obvious that that is the way they were going to go. How could they possibly deal with Russia when they had so long sat on the starkest evidence of systematic doping in sports history and done nothing about it?
There’s always another chance, a new window of opportunity. Here it comes.
Will the Gender Equality Project Working Group touch any of the above?
Here’s what they have to say so far, from the IOC statement:
For Angela Ruggiero, Chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, gender equality is a clear priority for the athletes: “The IOC Athletes’ Commission wants gender equality to be part of the organisational culture within the entire Olympic Movement. To achieve that, we have directed the Working Group to develop action-oriented recommendations, substantiated by data and the best practices of our Olympic partners. We believe the outcome of this project will fundamentally advance the position of women in sport, and ultimately, lead to a stronger Olympic Movement.”
Marisol Casado, the Working Group Chair for the Project, believes “by having the IOC, the IFs and the NOCs working together on this project, we will share best practices as well as address the obstacles facing gender equality in sport to produce solutions. I am confident our recommendations will make significant advancements”.
The obstacles facing gender equality stretch to areas that have challenged the IOC to the core of its Charter and found it wanting these past 100 and more years since Annette Kellerman and the bodysuit that shocked society at the time helped to save women’s lives (right).
The issues stretch to sex abuse and the woeful turning-a-blind-eye response of officialdom. Safe Sport policies are now in place in some places but very far from everywhere among Olympic nations. Such policies cannot cure the past but to draw a line that refuses to learn lessons from the woe that afflicted women in bygone decades is to miss a serious trick when it comes to making sure the future is a far healthier and safer place in which women athletes can achieve and prosper.
Over to you Gender Equality Project Working Group – but know that you cannot hope for a brighter future for as long as you have not dealt with the sorrows of the past.