“Your abuse started 30 years ago but that’s just the first reported incident we know of. If over these many years just one adult listened and had the courage and character to act, this tragedy could have been avoided. I, and so many others, would never have met you.”
Those are some of the powerful words spoken in the testimony of American Olympic gold medalist gymnast Aly Raisman during a 13-minute victim-impact statement yesterday in front of Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina and thew doctor who abused her, Larry Nassar.
“It’s been such a long week, so much crying“, as Kate Bush wrote and sang. The testimony of gymnasts has been excruciating, as has the the clear message to sports leaders who simply failed in their roles as guardians.
In her statement, the gymnast excoriated not only Nassar for the abuse he inflicted sin generations of gymnasts – so far the count is around 150 athletes – but also USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) for what she sees as a systematic enabling of his crimes and an inadequate response to the devastating scandal on their doorstep.
Raisman asked the judge to sentence Nassar to the strongest possible allowed by law to send a message to abusers that their time is up. But she went further and drove her plea to the heart of sports governance, saying:
“Please, your honour, stress the need to investigate how this happened so we can hold accountable those who enabled Larry Nassar.”
At the end of her statement, Aquilina looked at Raisman and said: “I’m an adult, and I’m listening, and I’m sorry it took this long.”
Important to note that some did indeed tell “an adult”, Michigan State University among those now required to study their conscience, this gymnast an example of where it all goes wrong even when the victim does come forward: Larissa Boyce told the authorities in 1997 – and nothing was done. Boyce’s testimony called out former MSU gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, whom she and a youth gymnastics teammate told about Nassar in 1997.
Why are we relating this here on a swimming website? Three points:
1. The Nassar case is specific to gymnastics but when the Olympic gold medallist says “If over these many years just one adult listened and had the courage and character to act, this tragedy could have been avoided”, she cuts straight to the heart of the cancer in international sports governance: wilful blindness or ignorance and laissez faire, let sleeping dogs lie amount to the same thing – inaction and a licence to abuse. Abuse and manipulation take various forms – and all are relevant to all sports, and particularly where the process of producing champions dictates that guardians, in the form of adult officials, coaches, doctors end others, hold great sway at a time of transition for the athlete from child to adult.
2. Abuse has not been not confined to gymnastics. Stories of sexual abuse have been a part of the narrative in swimming, with senior and even Olympic head coaches from the USA, Australia, Britain and Ireland among those who faced the law and served time behind bars. Some simply got ‘struck off’; others got away with it – and the story extends to the alleged complicity of federations and leading officials who not only failed to act but worked with lawyers to shut down the truth. We can expect to hear more about that, and not only from gymnasts, in the months and years ahead. In the USA, SafeSport is in place. Similar programs and protections exist elsewhere, not leasts of all in the fabric of national laws. History tells us that what we know may well be the tip of an iceberg, far and wide.
Among many reasonable questions that no-on e at FINA will reply to when this website puts them is this one: where are the rules that specifically speak to athlete safety in sport and how are they applied. Thos rules stretch to issues raised by tragic events such as the death of Fran Crippen. Here is an article worth reading on the relationship between teacher and pupil; coach and athlete, penned by the 1984 Olympic 100m freestyle champion:
Abuse and alleged abuse does not end at the athlete and athlete/coach relationship, of course. Time for those officials and representatives to bring the tales told in bars to the public domain: tales such as those in which leading figures in swimming are among those who favour candidates bidding to host events if pretty young women are sent to their suites from time to time. Such things ought not to be the stuff of a wink, nod and snigger in the bar of the five-star hotel among people on hefty per diems and aware of things that ought not to be yet unprepared to take a stand and say ‘this should play no part in the culture of our leadership and governance of the sports, sportsmen and women for which and whom we serve as guardians’.
Doctor, Doctor… and how FINA still honours a criminal
3. “If over these many years just one adult listened and had the courage and character to act, this tragedy could have been avoided”. Going along to get along: that’s the offence this gymnast is talking about. Her words speak to the act of wilful blindness: first among those who say nothing even when suspecting and even knowing that bad things are unfolding on their watch because they convince themselves that what they do is good and they can only do that if they remain – and to remain the price is worth paying: silence. It is in the void of silence that bad things happen. Abuse takes many forms and has many outcomes.
In the late 1990s, as the doping trials unfolded, a special page on the internet was created by doping victims trying to gain justice and compensation, listing people involved in the German Democratic Republic’s State Plan 14:25. Those people included Dr Lothar Kipke, who remains on the list of those who received “FINA Pins”, the awards given to those who have graced swimming with good service and upheld all the best of values.
By unanimous vote, the FINA Press Commission in January 2014 asked the FINA Bureau to consider reconciliation moves for victims of abuse and victims on the other side of the coin, those robbed of their rightful place on podium and in sports history. It asked the blazers to make it clear that it would remove the silver pin and any awards given to those know to have done wrong. To this day, the press commission has never received an answer.
That was among reasons why this journalist resigned from the farce of commission roles within FINA. They may do some and even much good in certain parts of the realm of swimming governance but they are also too often (once if often enough) part of the wilful blindness that damages athletes and all the good folk (that’s the majority) who work with them on a daily basis generation come and go.
The question is: who is protecting and speaking up for athletes and others who find themselves the victim of abuse that can take a variety of shapes? Answer: Not the guardians of sport; not those in positions that offer the opportunity of check and balance; and not, in too many cases, the lawyers of those guardians, it seems.
Down the years, there was never any official proposal from the USA or others with cause to speak up for their athletes to have Kipke and other convicted criminals removed from the FINA honours list and for that to be officially recorded and publicised.
It is well past the time when leading members of FINA, the USA at the helm of them, pressed for the kind of recognition of the past that would result in Kipke’s official removal from the list of FINA honourees with an accompanying statement acknowledging the crimes committed, as recorded by the German courts.
Here’s a short (yes, such things do indeed require us all to read a little longer and think a little deeper that ’10 reasons why its best not to swim breaststroke with flippers on’) extract from a work by this author as a reminder to all who work within FINA: your voice counts. Use it. Do not fear the loss of your status on the grave y train, the loss of your per diem and access to the flights and hotels and all that goes with going along to get along.
State Plan 14:25
State Plan 14:25 held that children (for many of those doped, particularly in sports such as swimming, were under age) would be doped with substances such as anabolic steroids, some never clinically tested on animals before human guinea pigs were plied with them, and without the knowledge or consent of their parents. The 1966 blueprint refers to the drugs as “Unterstutzenden Mitteln“, or “supporting means”. The blueprint would not be signed as official policy until 1974 but experimentation on athletes started much earlier – certainly from 1971 with research for the plan dating back to the mid 1960s. It was the biggest pharmacological experiment in sports history.
The drugs, administered by doctors and coaches, included Oral-Turinabol, a synthetic anabolic agent developed for cancer patients; testosterone derivatives; and “STS 646“, a drug considered too dangerous to licence inside the GDR but given to teenagers before being tested on lab rats. “The pills came in a box of chocolates,” Catherine Menschner would say in court in 1999. You are unlikely to know her name. By the time she spoke she had suffered seven miscarriages in the years after quitting the sport in which she was fed a diet of drugs but not for international glory. “I was a guinea-pig. I was used to test drugs for better athletes so they could win for the GDR,” she said.
The masterminds behind the plan were Manfred Ewald and Dr Manfred Hoeppner. Hoeppner made his base at 21 Czarnikauer Strasse, Berlin, doping HQ, the hub of State Plan 14:25 if you like. The room is just 3 metres square. In it he penned his reports for his Stasi (secret police) overlords on a fold-down table he had installed because there was no room for a proper table. The room was all taken up by boxes of steroids ready for shipping to sports programmes around the country. Hoeppner filed some 1,000 reports to his Stasi contact. Ewald was always in the loop as chief political player at the scene of the crime. In 2000, Ewald, then 74, was found guilty on 20 counts of contributing to bodily harm, the tip of an iceberg of his involvement in a terrible crime.
Ewald, who started off his court case a confident and robust man but ended it with a ruling that his health would only allow him to appear for two hours a day, received a 22-month suspended sentence and Hoeppner an 18-month suspended sentence, the fact that they had criminal convictions against their names more pertinent than the lenient nature of their penalties. Together they had faced 142 counts of assisting grievous bodily harm. On grounds of time, the judge heard just 22 cases before coming to his conclusion that the men before him were as guilty as sin.
Ewald was not handed a financial penalty, as so many others were, for his part in State Plan 14:25, on the grounds that much time had past since he had been up to his eyeballs in guilt. It took German authorities the best part of 10 years to get cases to court, even though the same evidence as produced in 1998-2000 had been available in 1992-93.
At Hoeppner’s right-hand was Dr Lothar Kipke, member of the medical commission of FINA. In that capacity he bangs the anti-doping drum but back home he is one of the worst offenders in the sporting crime of the century. A former member of the Nazi party, Kipke was described in a German court in Berlin in 2000 as “the Joseph Mengele of GDR sport“. He will also be damned by Hoeppner’s hand.
“In preparation for team travel to the US, Dr Kipke forced … athletes to be given testosterone injections. Dr Kipke is brutal in giving the injections. He doesn’t consider any pain it causes to the athlete and almost rams the shringe into the body.” – Hoeppner’s notes to his Stasi liaison officer.
Hoeppner and Kipke sat at the helm of a covert network that coerced and corrupted doctors, coaches, scientists, chemists and swimmers, among others athletes. He keeps a tight ship: beyond issuing “supporting means guidelines” with specific instructions on dosages, he orders abortions:
“Should a pregnancy occur while anabolic steroids are being taken then it is recommended in all cases that an abortion is carried out.” Children born to athletes who had taken steroids are to be delivered in a Stasi clinic so that “a decision could be taken as to what to do” in the event of “complications”.
Hoeppner later got cold feet as the monster he created got out of control and coaches started to choose their own doses for their girls (and boys). Most victims were teenage girls. Carola Nitschke and Antje Stille were 13 when they were put on a steroid regime, court cases would reveal in 1999 and 2000. In his trial, Kipke adopted the role of Nazi concentration camp guard: “I was only following orders…”. There to hear him was former swimmer Martina Gottshalt, who urged her abuser to “look my 15-year-old son in the eyes and tell him you were just following orders”. Her son, Daniel, sat beside her, his clubfoot swinging under the bench.
The network headed by Hoeppner and Kipke extended to beyond Berlin HQ. In Leipzig, Prof Dr Helga Pfeifer is among those rolling out State Plan 14:25. As she confessed me in 2005 during a reflection of her GDR days and in the days after it was revealed that she had been selling flume equipment for Chinese swim programmes in Shanghai:
“Yes, I was involved. I knew about the doping … The doctors decided. I was informed. I knew. I didn’t want to risk 35 years of sports science work and I don’t feel I have to apologise for that. I know which system I had to live and grow up in. No-one at the time knew how long that system would be in place.”
Pfeifer handles the sports science data at the heart some of the biggest Olympic sports, swimming included. It is unfair, she told me, to taint “brilliant” work with the doping that was a part of something bigger. Many beg to differ, if only because neither she nor we can say how good GDR swimmers might have been had fair play been the watchword of a rotten regime. Two months after the Berlin Wall fell, Pfeifer, with official government permission Down Under, was invited to the Australian Institute of Sport. Her scientific papers were still to be found in the library of the AIS in recent years.
Pfeifer, along with many others steeped in the task of rolling out State Plan 14:25 were never called to account in a court of law. Among coaches, national team coaches Juergen Tanneberger and Wolfgang Richter and the East German swimming federation general secretary Egon Muller were among those who received one-year suspended jail sentences after being found guilty grievous bodily harm for having distributed steroids to under-age athletes without their knowledge. Several other national team coaches who had continued to coach Olympic, world and European champions throughout the 1990s, also had their careers brought to a halt after being convicted in trials in 1999 and 2000.
If their guilt was weighty it paled by comparison to that of Kipke, of whom one lawyer for victims said:
“He gave injections, he initiated experiments, and didn’t care about the individuals. He knew exactly what he was doing.”
Kipke, 76 and retired in Leipzig the last we heard, provided a packed courtroom in Berlin in 2000 with this explanation: “At 14 the girls were biologically adult. That’s why we could give them the stuff. They weren’t considered minors anymore.” Or even human, some might say.
Kipke was found guilty on 58 counts of grievous bodily harm to underage female athletes, was served a 15-month suspended sentence and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. That was January 2000. By October 3 that year, time would run out on the GDR doping court cases under a statute of limitations and all those not already called would walk free. Kipke was among seven GDR officials to receive honours from FINA. He received his in 1985, the year in which Stasi documents show that those who were spying on a spy reported back to Stasi bosses that Kipke appeared to relish administering doping in a “brutal” way. The rotten regime itself saw in Kipke a man who ought to be reined in. Dark irony indeed.
Among doctors called to court to account for their role in a massive deception was Dr Dorit Rosler. She would set up a surgery in Czarnikauer Strasse in post GDR days with the very purpose of helping victims of the GDR doping system. In court, Rosler broke down in tears when she faced some of those victims and said:
“I should have shown more courage. In Nazi Germany we did what we were told to do. The GDR doping machine was no different; we were just carrying out medical orders … have we not learned anything?”
No such level of remorse from Dr Dieter Binus, Dr Ulrich Sunder (sounds like Sünde, ‘sin’ in German) and Dr Horst Tausch. They all broke the Hippocratic oath and indeed the law when they administered drugs to swimmers. They were convicted of bodily harm. They continued to practice as doctors years after the doping factory their talents were put to use in had ceased to produce dark results. Among others working in the system was Dr Eberhard Koehler, who sought an injunction to try to prevent publication of a book on GDR doping in which he was named.
He was not alone among those wishing to keep the past a secret and denying that events took place in the way that Stasi documents clearly suggested that they did. Before travel to racing outside the GDR, all swimmers were tested and their urine samples sent to the IOC-accredited laboratory at Kreischa, a place charged by the Olympic movement with the task of catch cheats. In fact, what Kreischa did was to make sure the world would never catch the GDR cheating. Sportsmen and women found positive for drugs simply stayed at home, many after serious attempts had been made to wash their bodies of damning evidence. Little wonder that not a single GDR swimmer was ever caught, even though Stasi documents would later reveal the names, with specific doses of drugs administered, of generations of Olympic and world and European swimming champions.