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Social Doping

Interview: Klaus Gehrke (ah)
August 10, 2008

Amid doping concerns at the Beijing Olympics, Deutsche Welle spoke to anti-doping campaigner Ines Geipel, once track-and-field athletics world record holder of East Germany.

Ines Geipel
Ines Geipel is wary of the consequences doping could have on society.Image: picture-alliance/ ZB

Deutsche Welle: Miss Geipel, if I can't quite make it on the track without a coffee in the morning, is that also a kind of doping?

Ines Geipel: Well yes, one can use that word in a very inflated way. I don't begrudge you your coffee and moreover what do I know? What other little tricks of stimulation are out there? By doping, of course, we're already really talking about another kind of competition that does come into that, yes.

In society at the moment that is indeed the case, like with people who go to the gym in their free time. They would actually really like to look a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger and so they might also take a few substances. Then there are students who want to take something so that they're not so agitated. Why are people always prepared to take such performance enhancing drugs in their daily lives?

Scientist's hand holding doping probe
Doping does not only affect professional athletes.Image: AP

Society stands under enormous pressure of success, in all fields. In my book I've tried to piece it together a bit. Firstly, of course, there are the studies. Even when you just take these fitness studios, over one million people in Germany take growth hormones and steroids in gyms.

Of course, this always has severe after-effects and side-effects and curiously we do not take that into account in the bigger picture. No, we want to be in front, we want to be up there, we want to have muscular bodies and quick minds. So we push ourselves further with all these chemicals and that, of course, has something to do with the fact that we don't take into account our limits. But in that lies the good fortune that we do have limits.

Let's just go back to sport for a minute and again the example of the bodybuilder. Is there the eventual desire to chase an ideal image that one could otherwise never reach… is it somehow sexy to look so muscular?

Well yes, I think you're really onto it -- and I've also tried to show that in my book -- this strong osmosis between sport and society. The thing is in sport, in this celebrity-culture it's exactly that muscular image that is being shown in the media and that will of course always influence someone's idea of what looks good. Someone with a maybe not so well-developed sense of self then leaps after this muscular image and the fact that this affects millions is actually quite alarming.

This trend that now reigns in society, who actually pursues it? I've just been talking about bodybuilders and students. Who else goes in for it?

Yes well, we really have to realize the situation and the realization is taking shape more and more that this problem has really stuck its claws into our society. You could take a high-level orchestra and there will be doping there. You could go to building sites. I've just been to a prison in Butzbach where I had a session with murderers. The kinds of bodies I saw -- I would also see this psychologically: it's a male system where you have to be accepted. This problem really begins, of course, with children at school and leads to Ritalin, Modafinil and Prozac at university. So it's really quite epidemic.

A group of male bodybuilders
Is this the ideal body?Image: AP

Can one then truthfully say that it is the weaker members of society who reach out to such means?

No. I believe that this doping problem is definitely partially socially conditioned, but then one must ask why. Why do I need a strong body, why do I need a styled body? And then we have the doping phenomenon in the media, we see it in top managers and so on. And one cannot say that these are the weaker groups in society.

So how can a society transform itself when weaknesses are less and less acceptable?

Well when you consider that in the US at the moment there is extensive research into things such as developing an anti-pain pill that lasts over four weeks -- that means we could slip into a society that no longer knows pain. What does that mean? On the one hand that will raise the potential for aggression unbelievably high. So then society has less inhibitions, then you have to think twice about going out onto the street. At the same time, of course, it goes all ways. On the other hand we could really dampen society and, with similar effects to alcohol, at the same time make it more aggressive. So what you want to see at a certain moment always depends highly on which door you open.

Is there any kind of opposition movement that takes on exactly these points, that is against doping in society?

Absolutely. In fact we can also see, through similar strong trends -- social trends -- that there are always alert and fundamentally strong individuals who say that all of that brings nothing. There is no good kind of doping, there are only side-effects and after-effects. Especially all this "brain-doping," that is all the doping that affects the brain, naturally causes big problems. I am really astonished that there are hospitals that are reticent in Germany, that the church is no longer raising the alarm.

I've observed that precisely amongst young people there is a strong group of people who say "I'm not even going to take an aspirin because I don't need it, because I want to mark my limits and get a feel for them." Peter Sloterdijk speaks of a symphony of inner drugs which we can move ourselves around. So it also has something to do with the variety of internal landscapes that we can discover and explore. That would really be quite similar -- with chemicals we are making use of the simplest kind of potential.

It is probably also important to realize that we are only human and as humans we also have diverse human weaknesses.

That is the most wonderful thing and the problem of all these chemicals is of course a problem of the ever stronger conformity that's reaching out, the notion that "that is the perfect body" -- but it is a body controlled by chemicals. And it is quite clear that we are casting off a fundamental responsibility, especially when we take into account the problem of genetic doping and gene therapy, in other words everything that's currently in the pharmaceutical pipeline. If you consider this gene therapy then it's really the children that will be transformed and we have the responsibility, which means we really must ask ourselves, can we then hold on to it? Can we hold on to this responsibility? And I can only remind you again, certainly from my own experience, the consequences of this whole chemicalization are immense.

As you just mentioned, you were a top athlete in the former GDR and there forced doping was quite normal. Among your colleagues that took part in it back then, are there any who are now bringing out studies where they ask, "what has become of me through doping?"

Well I wrote a book after the last Berlin doping trial. That was the biggest ever doping trial in Germany, where the damage suffered by women who took masculine steroids in the time of the GDR -- that was the main substance -- really came out into the open. That included involuntary sex change, cancer, disabled children -- so even problems in the second generation -- massive hormonal imbalance and so on. From these trials we know much more about the after-effects and side-effects of masculine steroids and fundamentally it is a shifting of gender, a virilization of women. At this point I would also like to say that -- and I know the story well -- it is a real survival program for women to come back in life, because these masculine steroids also alter the brain of course. They cause neural damage to the brain and that means definite and almost always extreme addiction sickness. So we have a real collection of dangers here.

Two cyclists struggling to take the lead
Has competition been made redundant?Image: AP

As the Olympic Games are now beginning in Beijing, we can almost take for granted that cases of doping will emerge. How far does that detract from the achievements that are made? How great is the enthusiasm for even faster, even higher, even further?

Well I think we see that a lot today. On the one hand you have the tainted image of sport, but on the other hand the audience ratings will still be very high, so we are training with bigotry. So there even comes a time where one gets used to this doping. With the Tour de France there is always a scandal around an individual athlete, but the system itself is never really taken into account, not to mention somehow changed.

I find this fatal because doping fundamentally means another damaged life and we get used to this trauma of sport. I can't really get over that and I will struggle against that as long as I can because that doesn't only make the idea of sport redundant, but also the competition. In my eyes, a game that fundamentally exists outside of the rules will always be worthless and I seem to sense that fans are becoming a bit weary of the doping discussion. But on the other hand I say that this is getting out of hand and where are the controls that can really work against it?

That comes into the factor that we need to finally remind the politicians, as well as the judicial authorities that are responsible, that we have got to set up clear defenses against this.

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