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Germany

Stasi Allegations Dog Leipzig Olympic Bid

The Stasi scandal which has threatened Leipzig’s Olympic bid has not abated despite the resignation of two leading members of the German committee. Now the search begins for the person who can save the campaign.

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Dirk Thärichen resigned from the Olympic committee after it surfaced he had secret police connections.

The cities of Leipzig and Rostock sought to regain some credibility over the weekend for their scandal-ridden joint Olympic bid by announcing a partnership that the organizing committee hopes will find new managers to save the campaign to host the prestigious sporting event.

Instead of actually naming a successor to the disgraced former head, Dirk Thärichen, the committee announced on Sunday that Thomas Middelhoff, the former chief of media giant Bertelsmann, and Bernd Rauch, the vice president of soccer club Bayern Munich, will coordinate the search for a replacement to lead Leipzig's troubled bid. They hope to have a new chief in place by Nov. 19.

At the same time, the German team unveiled the Leipzig-Rostock campaign logo, a modern take on the Olympic flame in the colors of the five famous rings which adorn the games' flag. It cries "business as normal" but behind the scenes, uncertainty remains a disturbing undercurrent of the German bid.

Gerhard Schröder Leipzig darf sich bewerben

Schröder announced the winners in April.

The campaign was thrown into turmoil recently when Thärichen, the head of Leipzig's Olympic bid committee, and Harald Lochotzke, the chairman of Rostock's publicly run Olympic marketing committee, resigned over allegations of involvement with the former East German secret police and complicity in a number of financial irregularities.

Respected men search for new leader

With the smell of scandal still lingering, the German organizing team were in desperate need of a damage control exercise, and the appointment of two respected men to head the search for a successor has been heralded as a step in the right direction.

Porträt des Bundesinnenministers Otto Schily

Interior Minister Otto Schily.

German Interior Minister Otto Schily (photo) outlined the kind of person Middelhoff and Rauch would be looking for: "We are looking for someone with strong management qualities, who knows how to handle public money." But it was what Schily didn’t say that echoed loudest throughout the committee’s halls. As important as strong management is, a past free of the stain of espionage and Stasi secret police organization is just as crucial. The rumours and accusations of an alleged connection between Thärichen, Lochotzke and the secret police have been the primary force threatening to derail the German Olympic bid.

Since reunification in 1989, Germany has been working hard to send out a message of integration, of one country working towards a brighter future. When it was announced in April this year that Leipzig had beaten out competition from Hamburg, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and Stuttgart to be Germany's official bid city to host the 2012 Games, it was seen as a shot in the arm for the depressed region, which is still struggling to catch up with the more prosperous west more than a decade after reunification.

Dark history

However, dark shadows associated with the rule of the communist regime and its steroid-fuelled sporting machine continue to plague the eastern states.

Aktenberge im Gauckarchiv

The Stasi archives in Berlin.

One particularly touchy issue remains that of the Stasi, the secret police who recruited citizens to inform on neighbors, family and friends and who kept detailed files (photo) on all those who collaborated with and opposed the communist regime. It is still possible for people to be barred from employment possibilities in many professions if it can be proven that the person served as a Stasi informant or worker.

Former head served in Stasi unit

In the case of Thärichen, his secret police past came back to haunt him after the German daily Die Welt revealed that as a 19-year-old, he had served briefly for the Stasi's Feliks Dzerzhinsky guard unit, a division involved in putting down pro-democracy demonstrations in early 1989 which took its name from the founder of the K.G.B.

Wolfgang Tiefensee, the mayor of Leipzig, addressed the Stasi allegations on local television at the time of Thärichen’s resignation, saying: "I must realize that the time has not yet come in Germany where this issue can be discussed in an unbiased way, especially in connection with the Olympic bid."

Rostock chief was informer

Further media investigations, this time by Der Spiegel magazine, helped bring Lochotzke's collaboration to light. A look into the Stasi files, which can be released under certain conditions, revealed that Lochotzke worked for the Stasi as an informer from 1986 until 1989 under the code name Kay Birkhoff.

The files also detail stipends and gifts awarded to him by the Stasi. They also document his alleged involvement in shady business dealings in Rostock in the years immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

IOC frowns on scandal

The disclosures have decreased the chances of what was already expected to be a long shot bid. Not only are Leipzig and Rostock up against the stiff competition presented by New York, London, Paris, Istanbul, Madrid, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro and Havana but the German bid also faces detailed examination by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is still sensitive to charges of corruption after the scandal that emerged from the selection of Salt Lake City to play host to the 2002 Games.

However, Walter Tröger, a German representative at the IOC, told reporters that regardless of what has occured in Leipzig, the IOC maintains that its selection process for future host cities will continue to focus on the suitability of proposed sporting venues, surrounding infrastructure and security measures.

He added that the Leipzig bid is progressing as mapped out in its proposal and that the joint bid with Rostock will make the first phase of IOC approvals in 2005. "I am sure that (the bid) will get registered by the IOC. I believe that Leipzig has a good chance... As a plan, it does not lie. The plan is in order."

With nearly three years remaining before the IOC selects the host city for the 2012 games, the scandal could still blow over.

If selected, Leipzig and Rostock would gain the opportunity to showcase the incredible progress that's been made in reunifying Germany, provide yet another symbolic bookend to the Cold War and provide an economic shot in the arm to a region that has struggled to rebuild its economy after the collapse of communism.

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