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Sports

German athletics coaches admit East German doping past

Five leading athletics coaches have admitted their involvement in the systematic use of performance-enhancing substances by athletes in the former East Germany. Despite criticism they will keep their jobs, officials say.

A syringe on top of a GDR flag

East German coaches were involved in the country's systematic doping program

In a joint statement released on Monday, five leading German athletics coaches admitted to having participated in administering "pharmaceutical substances" to enhance athletes' performances.

"We worked until 1990 as senior coaches in the GDR sports system," the statement says, "and our prime task was to achieve international success, notably by winning medals."

"We felt legitimized by state policy, and any refusal of these practices would have resulted in our exclusion from competitive sports and loss of employment."

The coaches also said that in hindsight they had made "a mistake," and that they were "very affected by, and extremely regretful, if athletes had damaged their health through the use of drugs."

Second chance

The coaches who signed the statement are all still active in the German Athletics Federation (DLV). They include long jump coach Rainer Pottel, discus coach Gerhard Boettcher, javelin coach Maria Ritschel, shot put coach Klaus Schneider and heptathlon coach Klaus Baarck.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who oversees the funding of German competitive sports, has welcomed the coaches' decision to come clean about their past. In a written statement he described the move as "a signal that they were taking responsibility for East Germany’s doping past" and "an important contribution to foster dialogue with victims."

DSOB President Thomas Bach

DOSB President Thomas Bach says the offenders will get a second chance

Approval also came from the German Olympic Sports Federation (DOSB). In a statement, DOSB president Thomas Bach said that the coaches would be given a second chance.

"[Since 1991] these coaches have been actively engaged in campaigns for eliminating doping from sport and have not been suspected of any wrongdoing."

Attempt to white-wash past sins

Athletes who were victims of the doping system in the former East Germany say the coaches' declaration is meant to put a lid on a simmering dispute over the practice under the communist regime and the involvement of current German coaches.

Andreas Krieger, a former East German shot putter who was forced to take anabolic steroids from the age of 13, believes that keeping these coaches employed is an immoral act.

"Seeing that these people can simply buy themselves out of their past with this statement, I can only speak of a grave violation of moral principles," the 1986 European shot put champion told German broadcaster ARD.

Winfried Hermann, sports affairs' spokesman of the Green Party, pointed out that after German unification in 1990 many East German coaches involved in the communist doping system remained in their jobs. Therefore this declaration was an attempt by sports officials and coaches to whitewash past sins.

East German medal winning machinery

East German athlete is congratulated after winning a medal

An East German gold medallist at the 1972 Olympics in Munich

Since 1990 many East German coaches who initially denied any involvement in the communist doping program have been removed from their state-funded jobs after being exposed by athletes or the media.

An estimated 8,000-9,000 East German athletes received performance-enhancing drugs under a scientific program that ran from 1972 to 1989.

During this time the tiny communist country, which had only about 17 million inhabitants, won 384 medals and came second in the medals standings in three of the four Olympic Summer Games in which it took part.

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