Top 20 Most Significant Swimming Stories Of 2016: #15 – FINA, Same As It Ever Was?

A reminder of the source of systematic woe: how to solve a decades-old problem the IOC ignored for too long? The GDR, the Stasi paperwork used to serve criminal convictions on FINA prize winners; and Yuan Yuan in 1998 at the height of the China doping crisis - the ghosts of a past still haunting Olympic sport

SwimVortex continues a countdown of the most significant swimming stories of Olympic Year 2016. 

We started with progress, the heights of Katinka Hosszu and  the Canadian Comeback, turned to a lack of progress in The Swimming Selfie, then considered inspiration and the impact of Michael Phelps on a generation knee-high when he was racing in his first Olympic final. Our list then turned to the theme that will not go away: doping and how to deal with it. We’ll be returning to the topic later in our countdown but yesterday we considered the Australia/ China interface and questions of faith & fair dinkum.

Today, in parallel context, we look at the folk responsible for the environment of all the entries in the list above and most to come, too: FINA, the international federation is the focus of a review, reform or replace debate among its membership. The official custodians of the sport, as opposed to that much bigger body of custodians at the water’s edge and in it day in and day out, have let the side down on many fronts for a long period of time.

In 2015, FINA leaders refused (and continues to do so) to even acknowledge a request made by hundreds of the world’s top coaches via the international association that represents them (WSCA) to submit to an independent review of structures and finances with a view to assessing what might be done to make the federation fit for purpose in the coming century. No response, no polite letter, no acknowledgment whatsoever. Head, Buried, Sand. The Same As It Ever Was since FINA established its professional office in the middle of the last decade of GDR doping.

In 2016, three leaders of the FINA Doping Review Board resigned. They said their advice on how to deal with the Russian doping crisis was ignored before the Rio Olympics. Those resignations are the nugget of this No15 entry in our top 20. The unprecedented resignations sparked another editorial, headed ‘FINA can neither survive nor be rebuilt without cultural revolution and reform’.

Our No15 entry could have chosen so many issues from those covered in our FINA Future compilation of features on the federation’s handling of matters but none comes close to the damage wrought by its inability to get to grips with a doping crisis that FINA leaders to this day describe in these terms (words used by four people currently at the top table): “Swimming has no special problem with doping.”  You could have fooled me. In looking for a way to explain why, I go back to July and reprint the following Olympic essay, for those who are minded to read it and hadn’t done so first time round, penned on the cusp of Star Wars at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for those who want to be reminded of where and what the trail of woe leads to, with a 2014 archive article at the tail end for the record:

No 15 – Same As It Ever Was

Editorial & Olympic Essay – July 2016

GDRwomenmontageToday I’ll be taking our sons swimming at a fine and fun facility not too far away from Kreischa in Saxony where once the town clinic was one of the key hubs at the heart of the German Democratic Republic’s State Plan 14:25 doping program.

How times have changed. There are no world-class swimming programs pumping out Olympic and World champions and record holders in these parts nowadays. Thank God for that.

Hereabouts, you don’t have to look far to find both those who would defend criminality (and even do so on the basis that ‘the rest of the world wasn’t clean anyway’) and those who tell how life as an ambassador in a tracksuit ruined their lives and those of their loved ones, too, in far too many cases (see the archive file at the foot of this editorial).

How relevant is the GDR in 2016? Vastly so as we stare at the wreckage of the Russian doping crisis and await the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport and then the International Olympic Committee.

The little blue pills back in the 70s and 80s were Oral Turinabol. And the Russian doping cocktail of the hour? “The Duchess” contains … yes, oral-turinabol, as well as oxandrolone and methasterone.

I ask the same question as that posed by a colleague I find common ground with on many issues but with whom I fundamentally disagree when it comes to the Russian doping crisis and response to doping and bad governance in general. The question posed by WADA Reports and the McLaren Report of this week: what’s to be done?

The answer from Alan Abrahamson, FINA’s first journalist of the year and a man who heartily defended Justin Gatlin’s right to be racing still when so much of the rest of the world points to him as American hypocrisy personified, appears to be clear: a hard line on Russia, including a blanket ban that would catch the innocent with the guilty, would be unfair, even illegal and  would be damaging to the Olympic Movement.

My reply: a soft line on Russia, allowing most (for that is what would happen) of the show to go on as if nothing had happened would surely be unfair, too, and might even be deemed illegal some fine day – it would also catch the innocent with the guilty,  only in this scenario the damage would be done to clean athletes from round the world – yet again – and to the Olympic Movement.

From Abrahamson comes this question:

“If you’re going to ban Russia, you might want to ban Kenya while you’re at it. Unlikely? If so, how is it remotely fair to ban Russia?”

In a tweet he also raised the issue of Turkey, as in why Russia if you don’t ban Turkey from Rio 2016 because of its 40 positives in 2013.

Abrahamson does not ask: spot the difference at the heart of the woe in those nations?

Answer: the state.

That status raises the temperature – and quite rightly so – beyond anything else that could do so barring the bright thing up above at midday on a clear blue-sky scorcher.

Russia - no longer ready to chink glasses with the IOC once more. [All images are stills from "Red Herrings" by ARD]

Russia – no longer ready to chink glasses with the IOC once more. [All images are stills from “Red Herrings” by ARD]

Abrahamson goes to lengths to cite friend of Olympic bosses and Russian President Vladimir Putin chapter and verse. The President doth protest too much, methinks.

Cast your eye over this lot:

“Russia is well aware of the Olympic movement’s immense significance and constructive force, and shares in full the Olympic movement’s values of mutual respect, solidarity, fairness and the spirit of friendship and cooperation.

“This is the only way to preserve the Olympic family’s unity and ensure international sport’s development in the interest of bringing people and cultures closer together. Russia is open to cooperation on achieving these noble goals.”

Well, you could have fooled me. Noble goals. What, like issuing a decree to border control so that all doping-test samples be opened and checked before leaving the country?

If Putin is serious, it’ll surely be the Gulag for Yuri Nagornykh, Russian Olympic Committe Executive and Deputy Sports Minister of the whole of Russia. Vitaly Mutko, the Sports Minister, too, came in for very steep criticism and stands accused of knowing about the system he has said did not exist.

Their fate will, ultimately, rest with Russian attitudes. As Putin puts it, this is all about the ” … values of mutual respect, solidarity, fairness and the spirit of friendship and cooperation”.

Shame he didn’t ask Nagornykh if that’s how he felt about his jobs before appointing him, given that the minister now stands accused of being a king-maker in a doping process involving cover-up, the Olympic Committee member’s name and thumbs up on the paperwork granting official, state permission for clean urine samples to be collected for later purpose.

Two Sides Of A Coin, one less polished

Abrahamson sets off on his trawl of McLaren Report day with the words “The most important note from the compelling report released Monday [is that] … there is no recommendation about what, as Lenin might have put it, is to be done”.

The most important note? Perhaps he overlooked the following:

  • The Moscow Laboratory operated, with the intention of protecting doped Russian athletes from detection, within a “State-dictated failsafe system”
  • The Sochi Laboratory for the Winter Olympic Games of 2014 operated a unique sample swapping methodology to enable doped Russian athletes to compete at the Games
  • The Ministry of Sport, the report states, directed, controlled and oversaw the manipulation of athlete’s analytical results or sample swapping, with the active participation and assistance of the secret services, the FSB (the Russian federal security service), the CSP (Centre of Sports Preparation in Russia), and both Moscow and Sochi IOC-accredited Laboratories
  • Yuri Nagornykh – Russian Olympic Committee executive and deputy sports minister – ordered the collection of clean urine samples that were then used as swaps for samples of urine that contained banned substances
  • Swimming is listed on a chart with 18 ‘disappearing positive tests’ (see chart below and for explanation): 9th worst of all 30 sports listed with such cases, track and field and weightlifting by far the worst, with more than 100 cases each.
  • The Moscow laboratory was asked to keep all 10,000 athlete samples in a letter of December 2014, but by the time WADA investigators got there, 8,000 had been destroyed.

Here are a few more things in Abrahamson’s campaigning editorial that demand scrutiny:

GDR, state plan 14:25: abuse victims on both sides - yet a call for reconciliation has fallen on deaf ears

GDR, state plan 14:25: abuse victims on both sides – yet a call for reconciliation has fallen on deaf ears

He asks whether Russians given “The Duchess” were even aware. Great question, for many in the GDR did not know what they were being given. Does that mean that Surley Shirley (Shirley Babashoff to those who know her as an outstanding athlete) should forever be considered sour and second best and look up to Kornelia Ender as one of the greatest of all-time? Would it have meant that the GDR should not have been collectively punished, even if that had extended to sports where doping was not seen as part of the problem?

And on that score, Abrahamson raises gymnastics and synchronised swimming as he stares as the chart of ‘disappeared positives’ and notes ‘no issue’ and therefore how could such innocents be lumped in with the rest if the state-run saga. Well, not with too much of a struggle, in fact, gymnastics and synchronised swimming both sports that belong to the club of those with doping positives on their score in world sport, including Russians.

Abrahamson raises this, too: “McLaren ‘did not seek to interview persons living within the Russian Federation. This includes government officials,’ page 8. So the report is deliberately one-sided?”

To raise the question is reasonable though not in those terms: on what basis does he reach for the word ‘deliberately’, one wonders. The more pertinent question to ask of people who know just how dangerous all of this has been for the whistleblowers, according to the people who genuinely fear for their safety would be: were your investigators disappointed with the appalling lack of cooperation they experienced in Russia when the first two WADA reports were being compiled?

Is it the case that some who you might have spoken to in Russia did so on the basis that they would not be referred to in the report, let alone named? And was that because they were terrified?

WADA noted how important it was to protect and support those who find the courage to speak out about very dark things. None of which is good enough for Abrahamson, who simply asks how Rodchenkov “finds himself now in Los Angeles? From what source or sources might he have money to, you know, pay rent and buy dinner?”

He might have asked all manner of things of Rodchenko, including how is he faring in hiding and is he relieved not to have suffered the sudden-death fate at 52 years of age of Nikita Kamaev, the former Rusada boss and his former colleague? I only ask because that, too, would be a reasonable question for an inquiring mind.

Abrahamson then picks up in this: “At page 25-6: “The compressed time frame in which to compile this Report has left much of the possible evidence unreviewed. This Report has skimmed the surface of the data that is available or could be available. As I write this Report our task is incomplete.” And concludes: “By definition, “incomplete” means exactly the opposite of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Stasi (secret police) documents emerged in the 1990s naming scores of Olympic champions and world record holders had been doped

Stasi (secret police) documents emerged in the 1990s naming scores of Olympic champions and world record holders had been doped

Er, no, it doesn’t. It could mean, for example, here’s the tip and it is 10-storeys high; we believe that may indicate a colossal edifice below the surface. The 10 storeys in view are no less significant for all that, of course.

Same point when it comes to the FSB, the Russian security service. A “glimpse” does not make for proof beyond a reasonable doubt, writes Abrahamsson, with some certainty where none appears to exist, that being the nature of secret services…

Abrahamson concludes that you could “drive a truck through the report” and then writes: “See you there, Russian delegation. Behind your red, white and blue Russian flag.”

That thinly veiled appeal to patriotism and pride at a time when heads should be hung in shame is the worst of it.

The Evidence Is Out There: In Abundance

wada doping logoState-run and pre-meditated is what it looks like from the great body of evidence put together by the media doing sterling investigative work and from the investigators following through.

And what it sounds like is the ghost of the GDR coming back to haunt with a whisper no less chilling for its lack of surprise: “Told you so – we were not the only ones…”

None of which is good enough for Abrahamson and others who live down the lane from Surley Shirley but seem to have forgotten that she exists.

Here is what Abrahamson writes:

“But — and this is the key — the report does not tie specific athletes to specific misconduct. At least yet. Without that, it fails law, ethics, morality and common sense to bar anyone from Rio.”

  • Fails law? Where is the law that protects clean athletes, Alan, and if you can find it, do you think its done a good job?
  • Morality? What is moral about returning doped athletes like Gatlin, Lovtsova and more to the Olympic arena only to send a message to the youth of the world that screams “it’s ok to cheat and even cheat again”?
  • Common sense? Where is the common sense in teaching our children that the Olympics is a place where cheats prosper and even if they get caught, they’re good for at least two more chances? Where is the common sense in teaching our children that they should never question anything that can’t be proven?

The questions run and run and there are valid points on both sides of the coin but almost all of those posed by Abrahamsson in his editorial seem to run one way to a cul-de-sac conclusion: Russia should remain because there are other cheats in the world and in the absence of a positive test you have to assume innocence and so on and so forth.

You can almost hear an Olympic clerk somewhere whispering ‘sure, there’s the issue of state involvement but hey, can that really be proven and anyway, there’s the official word to consider; I mean shouldn’t we take the politicians’ word for it. Thing is, we accepted the word of Lothar Kipke and Co and FINA even gave them awards for services to sport, prizes that they keep to this day years beyond being criminally convicted – so how can we jump tracks now? Far safer to stick to the law, blame it all on CAS and let bygones be bygones’.

Abrahamson tweeted:

“What we have are (very serious) allegations. But: No cross-examination. No due process.”

The Stepanovs

The Stepanovs

Whistleblower Yuliya Stepanova with coach Vladimir Mokhnev who is alleged to have run a doping program

Whistleblower Yuliya Stepanova with coach Vladimir Mokhnev who is alleged to have run a doping program

Beyond that being wrong it is deeply insulting to the teams at ARD, the New York Times, the whistelblowers who showed the courage, the investigators who followed up and the men and women who worked on hundreds and hundreds of hours of evidence and had to cope with folk pouring 8,000 samples down a sink, evading, telling fibs and seeking any obfuscation possible to cover up their old clothes with new ones.

More significantly, it takes us back to the start and point of this article: a blind eye is being turned to history. Take the tweeted words and timewarp them back to 1973, to 1976, to 1980, to 1986, to 1988, to 1989, to 1990 through to 1999. Guess what? GDR doping, serious allegations, no cross-examination, no due process.

Guess what? It was all true. And when due process happened it happened only because the state of a reunified Germany pressed the matter to a degree and went after some Mr Bigs (far too many got away by virtue of living outside Germany by that time, coaching folk from other countires and back in the Olympic realm).

What did the people running the Olympics and worlds such as FINA do? Nothing. They did absolutely nothing of any consequence whatsoever; no moves made, no words spoken with a mind to reconciliation and healing deep wounds. Not even after the guilty were criminalised. They let the sleeping dog snooze on. They refused to drive a stake though its heart. Hark the snarl of a waking beast.

In his editorial, Abrahamson says “The Olympics, at the core, are about fair play”.

Dear Alan, If only that were the case. You argue yourself for Russia to remain because you can’t chuck ’em out in a world stacked with cheats from elsewhere. All too easy, then, to drive a truck through such platitude. Core is truth. Fair Play has far too often been left gasping for air at the edge of Olympic truth – and we all know it.

The fact is that the IOC and FINA and others failed in a monumental and miserable fashion to deal with the ghosts of the GDR past and lawyers and apologists have made their case and been listened too. And all of that has heaped pain upon pain for the victims of state-sponsored doping – on both sides of the divide – and made it far easier for people to take up cheating and consider it ‘normal’ and even ‘acceptable’.

When Abrahamson writes that ” … calls for bans or more sparked by the McLaren report amount to howling from the mob. Not justice. The Olympics are better than that. The Olympics, at the core, are about fair play” he could not be more wrong.

Shirley Babashoff, Kornelia Ender and Enith Brigitha, 1976

Shirley Babashoff, Kornelia Ender and Enith Brigitha, 1976

Tell that, Alan, to Margaret (Margie) Kelly (who, you ask? look her up – she might have been an Olympic champion but for the GDR and, dare I say it, Russian drugs – in one of the races she might have medalled in, the podium was URS three times, then came three from the GDR, then Kelly and her teammate Debbie Rudd); tell it to generations of European women who were beaten into submission by the GDR for the best part of 20 years; tell it, too, to the USA women’s team of 1976, tell it to Shirley Babashoff: you’ll know her. She hails from your neck of the woods. Would have gone down as one of the greatest swimmers and athletes in history. She went down as Surley Shirley instead by folk who said she and those raising serious questions about the East Germans constituted the mob (and more on that when in a review of Babashoff’s terrific “Making Waves” ).

You’ll know Shirley, too, because the USA has recently celebrated the launch of The Last Gold. You might have seen it. Did you get to talk to the girls, Alan? Did you listen to what it all meant to them? Did you sense the depth of pain? Could you fathom the frustration of a life that left the rails when doping won the day?

Shirley, Alan, was not surley nor was she the mob. She had no evidence; there were no positive tests to turn to; what she had were deep voices and male-like muscles thrashing about the other side of the lane line. What she had was a deep feeling for her sport and its possibilities and parameters: she held nothing like  ‘beyond reasonable doubt” but she was certain that something was deeply wrong – and unjust.

GDR, state plan 14:25: abuse victims on both sides - yet a call for reconciliation has fallen on deaf ears

GDR, state plan 14:25: abuse victims on both sides – yet a call for reconciliation has fallen on deaf ears

Nothing was “beyond reasonable doubt”, either, for young Rica Reinisch, winner of three Olympic golds, Alan. The certainty that then did come her way must have been a shocker for a young teenage girl. Imagine being told at 16 that your ovaries are dangerously inflamed and that sterility is a serious threat. Take the thought and place yourself in the suit of the 14-year-old Russian who tested positive for doping in swimming … and the 15-year-old and the two 16 and 17-year-olds… and… I think you get my drift.

Russia excels not in senior swimming so much as in junior swimming, the perks and prizes on the lucrative side in the context of local economies and the pressure to perform intense. In junior swimming, Russia has thumped well above the weight of what follows in senior waters, in fact.

In the midst of that story is what amounts to abuse. That’s what I call it when 14-year-olds test positive for banned substances supplied to them by a team doctor and/or coach. Worse still when the kid goes down and those in the shadows either walk away or, woe upon woe, remain and work on with the same athlete beyond the warning or suspension.

It is against that backdrop and the one in the archive at the foot of this editorial that I feel it reasonable to question some of Abrahamson’s choice of words.

From the Horse’s Mouth

Yuri Gordeev - ARD found him wanting when it came to clean sport

Yuri Gordeev – ARD found him wanting when it came to clean sport

Abrahamson, a member of the IOC Media Commission, accepts without question the words of Olivier Niggli, the new WADA director general, when he says that “…senior Russian politicians have started to publicly acknowledge the existence of longstanding doping practices in Russia, and have conceded that a significant culture change is required. The McLaren Report makes it ever more clear that such culture change needs to be cascaded from the very top in order to deliver the necessary reform that clean sport needs.”

There’s some of the evidence you’re looking for Alan, right there. Or are all those senior Russian politicians lying from another angle as they “acknowledge the existence of longstanding doping practices in Russia”?

There will of course, be good and bad people in the mix of all this in Russia, precisely as there would be the world over. The truth is, however, you can go the world over and you’ll struggle to find other major world leaders presiding over a sporting catastrophe of the nature and on the scale of the Russian crisis.

Can you imagine Obama and his team signing a decree to border patrols to have doping samples intervened and checked? Can you imagine a top official in the sports ministry of your country being involved in any way whatsoever with the collection of clean urine samples as part of a swap club come the Olympics to ensure the best possible result through ilicit means?

And can you imagine in Britain a local police chief popping along to the pool to inform federation folk that the two EPO tests that showed up and the name of the doctor that supplied the drugs to two teenagers will go ‘no further than these four walls’. All in the know in that scenario comply because failure to do so would endanger their personal safety. Not happening in many parts of the world, really not. Yet in Russia it did happen, just a few short seasons ago.

I know that without a shadow of a doubt, Alan Abrahamson. No, there will be no witness standing on a public platform and telling us all what happened. Why? Work it out Alan. That does not mean to say that McLaren did not find the same evidence as I did, as The Times did, as SwimVortex did.

One of the first things a correspondent working in a war zone understands is that the slightest mistake in identifying a source can lead to that person’s death. Same for the translator, the lady who brings the meals in and anyone else helping the journalist in pursuit of truth.

Sport is not war, Alan, but think about it as you drive your truck through McLaren’s report: evidence supplied to him and his team may have been provided on the basis that the source cannot in any way be identified.

That is reasonable and that is standard practice – and yes, it demands a degree of faith in folk like McLaren but given that you granted your faith to Nagornykh and Mutko you can surely spare a drop for McLaren and Co.

The Court Of Arbitration: Future of The Olympics in The Balance

The whole sorry Russian doping saga makes the Olympic world a depressing place on several levels and all the more so at a time where FIFA and football and the IAAF and track and field and mired in inquiry and the prosecution of leading officials.

The latter is also the good news so far in the Olympic tale: high rankings officials are being targetted. But will their removal and punishment make any difference to the culture and education and the environment in which young athletes grow up in?

The bigger question is what to do about the athletes. Every answer requires compromise and pain and the legal challenge runs far deeper than some legal eagles would like us to ponder at the choppy surface.

The cases sit side by side on the FINA website

The Court of Arbitration for Sport will make its judgment on Russian track and field tomorrow. That decision will, in turn, weigh heavily on the next move the IOC may make.

If it removes officials but lets the athletes in, then Russia would hardly feel punished, while many in the rest of the world, most significantly clean athletes, will feel punished. Fair? Of course not.

If it removes some athletes but not all, on what basis will it do that? Could the IOC really claim fairness by removing swimmer X whose sample was tampered with a few years ago while leaving in the race a swimmer who has a definitive steroid positive to her name and 5 positive tests for a banned substance this year which count for nothing on what may or may not be a technicality, the rights and wrongs of which will not be known until later in the year beyond the Games?

All the more worrying if that first swimmer turned out to be, as real life confirms has been the case, a 14-year-old who had no clue that she had been doped and will now be made a victim all over again, while someone who actively took a product that listed the banned substance on the tin gets to muscle in on the action in Rio to the sound of depressed and damaged rivals all about her?

Fair play? Of course not.

Neither is collective punishment, say lawyers. CAS decides tomorrow. A fair and just solution and one that complies with the basics of law and order cannot be a collective punishment in which all get dropped in the same soup regardless, runs the argument for keeping Russians in the Games.

Alas, in the context of sport, clean athletes have been collectively punished for decades. Who stands up for them? Which law protects them from collective punishment?

GDR, state plan 14:25: abuse victims on both sides - yet a call for reconciliation has fallen on deaf ears

GDR, state plan 14:25: abuse victims on both sides – yet a call for reconciliation has fallen on deaf ears

If anyone doubts that State Plan 14:25 did not involve collective punishment then I recommend they read right down to the bottom of this file, including the archive repeated here and the consequences for generations of swimmers, most poignantly women, many of them girls not women, who have been rendered victims of laissez-faire attitudes and deliberate blind eyes for many decades by a world sports governance regime and realm that remains to this day very much a man’s world.

If sport doesn’t feel collective punishment for state-sponsored systematic doping is appropriate given all we know about the GDR state plan 14:25 and its consequences then it and its fans should have thought about that a long, long time ago – and done something about it.

Compromise, as noted, is apt, in this case, to deliver as much unfairness as fairness as any hard line could when taken in the interests of a complete change in the culture of Olympic sport that is long overdue.

Watershed. Tipping point

Call it what you will. The Olympic Movement’s survival hangs on a thread.

Whatever the decision may now be, a percentage of the audience has already been lost not because of inquiry and hard and soft lines but because there is a fundamental lack of faith in any result as a result of cheats.

When the cheat is a state, then clean athletes in that state need to challenge their state, not the rest of the world. And the rest of the world, the IOC included, needs to send back that message and say “see you in four years and we will help you be a better you – and if you’re serious you’ll accept a generous offer”.

GDRwomenmontageThe IOC has already partly dispensed with the principle of presuming innocence until found guilty. It has done so because of history and prevailing evidence. The presumption of innocence was eroded by a meteor storm a quarter of a century ago when what many had believed had been happening turned out to be fact not speculation.

  • Fact: no GDR swimmer ever tested positive in international testing
  • Fact: many hundreds if GDR swimmers tested positive for anabolic steroids in internal tests kept from the world as part of State Plan 14:25
  • Fact: Zhou Ming was banned for life – China and FINA have since stuck with a line that he was suspended for eight years in 1998 despite the existence of contemporary record of a press conference at the Perth 1998 World Championships which shows clearly that the coach was sent home and would be banned for life. When that changed was when he reappeared on a poolside with kids less than 7 years into his ban (they even miscalculated their recalculation).
  • Fact: the count of positives among Zhou Ming’s personal charges went double-digit but that was the tip of an iceberg in terms of the numbers passing through his filthy hands. Do we assume half his squad was clean, the other half not? I’m afraid not – we assume they were all on doping because among those who never tested positive officially were “Golden Flowers” built like brick toilet blocks and enduring with severe acne, bad teeth and on their way to serious health problems.

The sight of two world champions flanked by the team watcher and Zhou Ming haunts me yet: they were young teenagers – and they were victims of abuse. I have no doubt in my mind to this day. Yards away FINA blazers smiled and pressed the flesh with the Chinese delegation and all was well in the world – when clearly it was not.

Time to stake a stand if the IOC cannot do it for you

The Olympic Movement belongs to you. The guardians of the IOC must be judged on what they do and what they don’t do. By batting back responsibility for ‘in or out’ to federations without clear, unequivocal instruction as to what is tolerated and what is not, the IOC will simply grant FINA the keys to the room marked “more woe for clean swimmers, more second chances for cheats” because that is what FINA has always ended up doing.

Even now, at a time of “zero-tolerance” (as if), the Olympic swimming events will be stacked with those who have tested positive, found an excuse and made their return. The count includes several leading medal contenders. So much for a clean Games.

Sun Yang [Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer]

Sun Yang [Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer]

sunyangparktaehwanyuliyaefimovanatalialovtcovaIf this is not the time for USA Swimming, Swimming Australia and other leading federations around the world to stand together and press for clean sport and send the clearest message possible to Russia and anyone else who feels that cheating, doping, cover-up and corruption is reasonable and ought to be tolerated – then there will never be a time to do that. The fight for clean sport will surely have been lost.

The responsibility rests not just with the IOC and FINA – it rests with all those who are members of those organisations. Time to remind the leadership who they serve: you.

What domestic federations can and must do is promote an atmosphere in which the forces for change from within their organisation and FINA through the representatives they send can not only be heard but are buoyed and protected from a model that offers a stark choice: assimilation or removal.

Take Matthew Dunn. You’ll struggle to find a single challenging word from the former medley ace from Australia when it comes to the catalogue of FINA folly. That is, in part, because if he spoke out, he wouldn’t be the athlete representative on the FINA Bureau for much longer.

Heartening, then, to find him at loggerheads with the position of the FINA leadership on the matter of Olympic athletes spreading the word on WADA reports and Mclaren and more, sometimes even before publication.

Last month, Dunn sent out a mail under the subject: IAAF ban on Russia – IOC and WADA Athlete Committee joint statement.

He informs his readership:

  • As a member of the WADA Athlete Committee it is reflective of the position and comments we have made in the lead-up to today, and please feel free to distribute and share.
  • This is a monumental day for sport – and we have, very proudly, been a part of it in ensuring the voice of the clean athlete was always present, and always heard.
  • Many thanks, as always, for your support.

Great: terrific note.

Yuliya Efimova of Russia

Yuliya Efimova by PBK

What a pity that we find nothing of that nature from FINA. Not a word on the day Efimova is returned to the pool but plenty of energy and fast-response when it came to “serious” concerns that bits of the McLaren report might have been leaked and been put out there “prematurely”.

It will take courage and the support of Dunn’s federation and those of others sitting alongside the Australian on those largely emasculated commissions that FINA leaders use as a prop to show the world they’re listening even when they’re not.

I sat on the Media Commission for a few seasons until it became quite clear that FINA’s leaders heard only what they wanted to hear and simply ignored the rest, including a call for reconciliation of victims on both sides of State Plan 14:25. Unanimous vote: all on the commission wanted FINA’s top table to consider the issue. To this day: no response. It is, for them, a place where letting sleeping dogs lie is the best way to an easy life.

Unless they’re challenged: and then they spend $150,000 on attempting to discredit what cannot be discredited and trying to get Michael Phelps to be a poster boy for Julio Maglione’s presidential ambitions even when there’s not a cat in hell’s chance of that happening.

When I left the media commission in protest at the lack of transperancy in FINA, the pointlessness of raising issues but getting no response (many of them simple matters of improving the lot of journalists and their working conditions and the interface between them and coaches and swimmers at meets); the inappropriate presence of the director Cornel Marculescu at the start of all commission business, agenda setting and steer as obvious as unwelcome; and the Putin award that should never have been granted (not to him nor any other world leader), Abrahamson sent me a note to say that he respected my decision but thought it best to stay and change things from within.

That was the first time I’d seen his capacity for deep insult even where none was intended. The fact was that by then I’d spent more than a quarter of a century trying to persuade FINA folk that there was a better path.

Vladimir Salnikov

Vladimir Salnikov

There is – but FINA has yet to find it. Now, it may be charged with the task of deciding which Russians can swim in Rio (including those who have tested positive on at least two separate occasions and would arrive at the Games as repeat offenders).

Now, FINA is charged with the task of making investigations in Russia that will lead to the truth being told by the end of the year. That truth includes two EPO positive tests that were never reported to WADA. Will FINA find them?

Perhaps Vladimir Salnikov, the Russian member of the FINA Bureau, will be able to point them in the right direction.

Before any decision of the CAS or the IOC, FINA today issued the list of those athletes qualified for Rio 2016, including all Russians, including Yuliya Efimova*:

Business as usual. And all of that unfolding almost 18 months after John Leonard, the director of WSCA wrote to his equivalent at FINA, Marculescu, to raise concerns over anti-doping efforts in Russia tied to the Kazan World Championships in the wake of the ARD revelations of systematic doping at the heart of the Russian systems, stretching to anti-doping laboratories. FINA’s response was to say all is well because we have put in place the same system, independent observation in the mix, as that operated at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Oh Dear!

Interesting news ahead on an organisation that refuses even to submit to independent review in the interests of progress, not just for the blazers and their lot but for the sport and its prime asset: the swimmers.

And that’s the point: the swimmers. Those now arguing for justice for ‘clean Russian athletes’ have been far too silent when it comes to representing the views of clean athletes from elsewhere when they were being beaten to a pulp by cheats, Russian or otherwise.

When it comes to all between Shirley Babashoff to Ruta Meilutyte, one may well ask: where are Fair Play, justice, morality, ethics and all those fine things easier to write than find in the result sheet of Olympic swimming?

Ah, yes, sorry: so rare are such things that you can’t just hand them out to anyone. No, they need to be kept  as the sole preserve of those who need weapons with them for their day in Court, that of Arbitration.

Shirley Babashoff, Kornelia Ender and Enith Brigitha, 1976

Shirley Babashoff, Kornelia Ender and Enith Brigitha, 1976

And so we return to this: “What we have are (very serious) allegations. But: No cross-examination. No due process.”

Tell that to Wendy Boglioli, Jill Sterkel, teammate Babashoff and whisper it to the late Kim Peyton. Tell that to Enith Brigitha, who might have been the first black woman to win an Olympic swimming title (1976, still waiting) and inspire generations, tell that to Sharron Davies, to Anne Osgerby, to Margie Kelly, to June Croft, to Nancy Garapick, to Lisa Curry, to Jodie Clatchworthy, to Mary Wayte who waited four years to defend a crown she won in the absence of the GDR because of boycott only to be reminded how good that felt when she finished fourth behind three East Germans in 1988; tell that to every single one of those athletes thumped into a different status, to the families and coaches and others who supported them and had to read their achievements written up as ‘brave bronze’, ‘plucky fifth’ if they were lucky: dismal failure if not.

Tell it to the girls of the GDR robbed of their health; tell it to the women who gave birth to disabled children and believe (no, no hard and fast evidence nor due process for them) the source of woe to have been the sauce of woe; tell that to the women who were never known to us in elite sport because they were guinea pigs being fed the sauce so that the bad doctor could know it was safe for the ambassadors in tracksuits.

Which is where we turn to the SwimVortex Archive and remind those catching up why the Russian doping crisis cannot be compared to the bad stuff in Turkey, Kenya or anywhere else. We are looking at a different comparison: State Plan 14:25.

Nothing was done about it. IOC leaders must surely know that cannot happen again if the Olympic Movement is to survive.

Alan Abrahamson, I beg to differ. I do so with clean athletes, their coaches, their parents and the survival of the Olympic Movement in mind. It is not the clean athlete who must compromise as they are compromised; it is Russia and the stinking mire of systematic doping that must be told, unequivocally: see you in 2020 once the world has trust and faith once more in your compliance as a member of the international sports community.

And during that period, let the voices of Evgeny Korotyshkin and like minds win the day; let the youth of Russia understand that a price has been paid for rotten, corrupt practices among those running the show; grant the youth of Russia the power to turn round and say to the coach, the doctor, the local official waving a funding cheque in one hand and a syringe in the other:

“Stick it where the Sun don’t shine. I’m competing clean – and so is my country.”

From the Archive

October 2014, The Month FINA Honoured Putin…

Give everything, take nothing: Nada's welcome presence was unavoidable as Berlin hosted the European Championships in the former East 25 years after the fall of the Wall in 2014 - though someone forgot the box marked EPO when it came to anti-doping tests for the meet

Give everything, take nothing: Nada’s welcome presence was unavoidable as Berlin hosted the European Championships in the former East 25 years after the fall of the Wall in 2014 – though someone forgot the box marked EPO when it came to anti-doping tests for the meet

Tomorrow, Germany will rest from work and will play instead – and my family and I will do likewise, the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the end of the German Democratic Republic marking a moment that made it possible for me to meet my wife and for us to know our sons.

The Peaceful Revolution came to a head this week 25 years ago with emotional scenes as Hans-Dietrich Genscher, speaking to a crowd from a balcony at the West German Embassy in Prague (to where thousands of East Germans had fled that September) announced the terms of the deal he had negotiated for them to travel to the West and freedom. The trains had to pass first through the GDR and as they chugged through Dresden, police were forced to stop the cross from jumping on the rolling wagons.

Not much more than a month later, it was, in essence, all over: 40 years of the official GDR were done, the Berlin Wall about to be dismantled as Stasi (secret police) made for the files archive and the shredding room.

Thankfully, there was just too much to shred, too much to hide, too many notes to wipe from the slate of history, from the mundane that informed the authorities what colour people liked to paint their front doors to who might be having an affair with whom and on through reams of scribblings that noted down the precise dosages of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs – some of them clinically trialled on human guinea pigs – that had fuelled the GDR sports medals and records factory.

It was 1990 before reunification became official – so another 25-year anniversary will be declared next year and east and west parts of the new Germany will pour over the past once more, much of that done with a sense of happiness and hope, some looking back in sadness and some searching for and finding reason to look back in anger and bitterness (east and west).


In the realm of swimming, the impact of the GDR’s demise was not fully felt until the FINA World Championships in Perth, January 1991. I recall Michael Gross taking to a platform with Kristin Otto and appealing to the media not to dwell on the doping issues. Of course, it was impossible not to do so (Otto out and about with a bag on her back bearing the logo “Just Say No”)- especially when, later that year, the first details of the GDR Crime of the Sporting Century emerged in the book Doping: From Research to Deceit. 

I make no apologies for repeating words old and do so both to mark the date and for the benefit of any who may need reminding. As Germany prepares for a day of reflection on a national holiday, we take the opportunity to recall why we should never forget what came to pass. The day is all the more poignant because it marks the passing two years ago of Nick Thierry, a staunch advocate for clean sport, a coach, publisher and supporter of recording the truth no matter how hard it may be to swallow.

Before we proceed, I give thanks for the fall of the Wall, for what was unearthed, for all those who sought to get to the truth and to those who went to great lengths to report it, none less so than my colleague Karin Helmstaedt, who  sat in on the doping trials of the late 1990s and reported from them in English.

Doping: From Research to Deceit


The book confirmed – in part through Stasi and other documents saved from the shredders by people, since deceased, who worked with the authors Prof. Werner Franke and his wife Brigitte Berendonk – the existence and nauseating detail of State Plan 14:25,  complete with the dosages of Oral Turinabol administered to specific athletes, generations of swimmers included.

On 26 August 1993, after the former GDR had disbanded itself to accede to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990, records were opened and State Plan 14:25 confirmed: the Stasi, the GDR state secret police, supervised systematic doping of East German athletes from 1971 until reunification in 1990. Doping existed in other countries but the GDR was officially unique in so far as having a state plan designed to win in international sport as a way of saying ‘look how great our democratic republic and socialist/communist state is’.

The body and bulk of what was discovered is now held in places public and private in several countries, safe from the long arm of any single authority that may ver wish to suppress the truth. Some of that evidence was used in legal cases against coaches, doctors and others in the German doping trials of the late 1990s and subsequent compensation claims by athletes who suffered a spectrum of woes, from personal health, physical and psychological problems to the horrors of inheritance in the form of children born with club feet and a variety of other disabilities.

Oral Turinabol was just part of the poisonous cocktail of substances administered not only to medal-winning ‘ambassadors in tracksuits’ but to many who were never destined to make it beyond the Berlin Wall. Like the bulk of good but not world-class swimmers in the world, they were club swimmers – but with a dark difference; they served as human guinea pigs to test the effectiveness of substances that had never been clinically trailed in labs before bing administered to the athletes.

The Times in London carried the first post-reunification interview with Kornelia Ender in December 1991, penned by me and revealing her recollection of regular injections and pills that she now knew, along with the rest of us, to be performance-enhancing substances. News agencies, broadcasters and news publications galore from around the world revealed similar cases, after cases, many confirming the shocking depth, width, malice aforethought and criminality of State Plan 14:25.

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 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.

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. This year, after a campaign to recognise victims of the GDR crime on both sides of the divide, I lodged a request with FINA to have that situation reviewed. I am yet to hear news of any progress.

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 court.

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.

NADA's 2014 educational material seeks to have young people understand how their bodies are magnificent without the need to cheat

NADA’s 2014 educational material seeks to have young people understand how their bodies are magnificent without the need to cheat

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.


In my archive is a copy of a Stasi document that shows tests taken on four women – three already Olympic champions by then – at Kreischa, a place not far from Dresden and close to where I sit writing these words. The tests were conducted two weeks before racing at the 1989 European championships in Bonn. All four were massively over the allowable testosterone:epitestosterone limit. Between them they claimed six solo medals, four gold, a silver and a bronze, 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.

Many a success was built on a little blue pill made in Jena at the eponymous drugs company Jenapharm. Its representative sat at the table when State Plan 14:25 was discussed and honed, according to Stasi papers. None was ever called to account for their role in the mass abuse of large numbers of young athletes.

“If the treatment with anabolics is long-term, or at high dosages, real possibility for androgenic side effects exists. Skin conditions such as acne will develop, virilisation effects such as deeping of the voice, growth of facial hair, masculine habits, increased sexual appetite, and clitoral hypertrophy will all occur.” – Jenapharm (drug company) paper, 1965.

In 2003, Jenapharm, beyond its GDR days, won Germany’s Golden Pill Award for services to womanhood. Two years on the company was named in a law suit by 162 athletes, many of them swimmers. Jenapharm’s parent companies denied any wrongdoing. In a statement, Jenapharm acknowledged that the company was obliged to “collaborate in the GDR ‘Staatsplan 14.25’, but that it was not a driving force behind the national GDR doping programme”. The blame rested with politicians, sports doctors and coaches. The athletes’ claims were unfounded, the company said.

Ultimately, an out-of-court settlement was reached and victims compensated by the pharmaceutical industry in Germany and by the German Olympic Committee, which assumed the responsibilities of the GDR Olympic body after reunification.

Among the victims were swimmers who in their 30s and 40s suffered defects to heart, liver, gallbladder, chronic back pain, damaged spines and reproductive organs, tumours, had endured multiple miscarriages and given birth to disabled children.

Some of those stories may only be told alongside revelations found in Stasi documents confirming the sporting crime of the century because of Prof Werner Franke, a cell biologist and cancer expert in Heidelberg, his wife Brigitte Berendonk and their lawyer Dr Michael Lehner.

One of the few victims to have spoken eloquently in public about her plight is Rica Reinisch, who at the age of 15 won three gold medals at the Olympic Games of Moscow in 1980, each win producing a world record. “The worst thing was that I didn’t know I was being doped,” she told The Guardian years later.

“I was lied to and deceived. Whenever I asked my coach what the tablets were I was told they were vitamins and preparations.”

Stasi (secret police) documents emerged in the 1990s naming scores of Olympic champions and world record holders had been doped

Stasi (secret police) documents emerged in the 1990s naming scores of Olympic champions and world record holders had been doped

Years on and Prof Franke would say: “There was no medical reason to give steroids. It was against the law of the German Democratic Republic. It was against medical ethics. Everybody knew these drugs were not allowed. The people who participated in this clandestine operation knew that they would lose privileges if they refused to take part.

“But they also knew they wouldn’t be executed. Some of the arguments now resemble those brought forward in the Third Reich. Those involved disapproved of what they were doing. They knew it was wrong. But they also knew it was a matter of national prestige, and was good for their careers. The Jesuits have a saying: ‘For the greater glory of God.’ This is what happened here.”

God and goodness, of course, had nothing to do with the abomination of the GDR’s State Plan 14:25.

It was from 1990 that the many who spoke out against the massive deception on which GDR sport was built felt truly free to do so. Two decades on from reunification, there are those who prefer to stay silent rather than tell the truth that unfolded at the expense of others who were robbed of their rightful claim to history. And there are former athletes who cannot lead normal lives, who live in pain, who take daily medication to help them to cope with the fallout of the poison pumped into their bodies.

In 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Deutsche Welle reported the case of Berlin resident Birgit Boese, for whom just getting to and from work is a triumph. Noted the report: The 48-year-old former athlete depends on crutches to get around, and she and her husband have to forego visits together to the theater, movies or local swimming pool. “Because of the pain, we can’t really take part in public life,” she told DW.

Once groomed to show the world that the GDR was best at shot put, Boese now suffers from an irregular heartbeat, high-blood pressure, diabetes, nerve damage, kidney problems, “and a list of other ailments that have made her all but an invalid”. Her journey through a nightmare started when she was just 11, when she started at sports school and was told to take the little blue pills that fed the East German medals machine.

Boese and 183 other victims of State Plan 14:25 were awarded compensation in 2006 from the German Olympic Sports Organisation (DOSB) and the drug company Jenapharm. Each received 9,250 euros from the pharmaceutical company in an out-of-court settlement and 170 of the plaintiffs were paid another 9,250 euros from the DOSB. Said Boese:

“It helped, sure. But for those with chronic illnesses and who have to pay out of pocket for medications, the money didn’t go that far.”


Officialdom in swimming has taken a ‘let-sleeping-dogs-lie’ approach to all of the above. This year, there were plenty of signs that Germany has long moved on: at the European Championships in Berlin in August, the corridors down which athletes, coaches media, public and others flowed to get to the stands were lined with an exhibition that related the story of the GDR’s swimming past, the Oral Turinabol and what came of it all. 

Alongside the billboard presentations were stands belonging to NADA, the German anti-doping agency. There were brochures for parents and other brochures for their athletic offspring, agents were on call to answer questions and information was abundantly available. Bravo!

Germany has had a tough time keeping up in world waters of late but it has reached a deeper understanding with its past, settled on a better course – and can be proud of having done so.

A Different Perspective


Long gone is the time to stop portraying 14 to 16-year-old victims of abuse as thieves, cheats and deceivers (that thought as pertinent today as it was back in the days of the GDR and the 1990s).  Those whose names flood the books of swimming records and results from the 1970s and 1980s grew up in a time and a place and in circumstances that put a torch to suggestions that they had a choice, could have objected, could have told someone, could have gone home told their parents and expected their parents to step in. 

This was a country, at the political level and beyond sport, in which, some objectors who later developed cancer believe that they were deliberately exposed to radiation while waiting to be called for interrogation; a country in which many were shot dead while trying to escape to a place of choice through barbed-wire barricades.

Down the years, I have met many of the GDR’s swim champions and medallists. In two cases, I detected a troubling tone of self-justification and defence of an indefensible system. In the vast bulk of cases, the swimmers, polite, pleasant, well-educated and getting on with what might be described as “ordinary lives” – beyond the pills and potions and sports-related problems that they endure – manage to speak with dignity and patience about painful episodes in their lives.

Some of them may well have gold medals but they are all victims to one degree of another. Victims of the likes of Kipke, who, like them, has kept his international honour in official terms.

All on the watch of some still at the helm of FINA. Do current IOC members want history to repeat itself on their watch. One would hope not.

Our Message In 2014 (and 2015 and 2016…)

In 2013, SwimVortex joined hands with Swimming World to call for a better way of dealing with the past, called on officialdom to seek a way of recognising Babashoff, Brigitha and Co without making Ender and Co victims all over again.

Our purpose was clear: let the record stand – alongside every footnote necessary to make sport an honest place for future generations while treating victims on all sides with the dignity and recognition that they deserve.

Official silence has followed. On the day that Germany celebrates the first 25 years of a new beginning, may that silence deafen those who have had the power but not the courage to act.

SwimVortex continues a countdown of the most significant swimming stories of Olympic Year 2016. FINA – review, reform? Or replace? The arguments are all out there. Our No15 entry could have chosen so many issues from those covered in our FINA Future compilation of features on the federation’s handling of matters but none comes close to the damage wrought by its inability to get to grips with a doping crisis that FINA leaders to this day describe in these terms (words used by four people currently at the top table): “Swimming has no special problem with doping.” You could have fooled me. In looking for a way to explain why, I go back to July and reprint an Olympic essay and editorial penned on the cusp of Star Wars at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for those who want to be reminded of where and what the trail of woe leads to


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