How the Stasi Rigged East German Sports | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 31.05.2005

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How the Stasi Rigged East German Sports

With the notorious Rosewood File now lifting the lid on more Stasi subterfuge, experts on GDR sports argue that it's time former collaborators with East Germany's secret service were called to account.

In 1990, the Stasi destroyed 90 percent of its archives

In 1990, the Stasi destroyed 90 percent of its archives

The "Rosewood File" is something of a holy grail in the world of international espionage. Under the aegis of the Stasi Archive --named the Birthler Behörde after its director, Marianne Birthler -- a research group is now concluding work on what experts believe is the definitive source on East Germany's infamous secret police, handed back over to Germany by the CIA in 2003.

Allegedly, it contains a few surprises. In an interview with the magazine Mut, project leader Helmut Müller-Enbergs revealed that in the late 1980s, up to 18 secret agents with the Stasi's center for foreign espionage (HVA) were active in the West German Foreign Ministry.

West German universities were also infiltrated with informers more densely than previously believed, with 43 spies operating at Berlin's Free University, and another 12 at the Technical University. As well as containing names of West Germans working for the Stasi, the report also lists some 20,000 to 30,000 East Germans working unofficially as Stasi informers in the four decades up to the fall of the Berlin wall.

Die Bundesbeauftragte für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen DDR MfS, Marianne Birthler, zeigt eine CD-ROM mit so genannten Rosenholz Daten

"Clearly, a file like this can clear up a lot of mysteries," said Christian Booss, spokesperson with the Birthler Behörde.

"When the Rosewood file came to light, a lot of authorities decided that on the basis of its findings they'd take a last opportunity before the statute of limitations runs out in 2006 to screen civil servants. Most of the applications have come from CDU-ruled states in eastern German states -- Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringen. Since early 2004, we've had over 100,000 requests."

Stasi and sport

Among those getting hot under the collar could be numerous figures from the world of sport.

In the mid-1990s, the National Olympic Committee and the German Sport Association (DSB) set up a commission made up of sport representatives, administrators and former DDR civil rights activists. Its task was to investigate the extent of the Stasi's role in East German sport.

Stasi Akten Kartei

But as a recent Bundestag report presented by Marianne Birthler and DSB President Manfred von Richthofen confirmed, many feel that its mandate has been too limited -- one key problem being that the commission can only investigate individuals in response to specific requests.

Academics, politicians and Stasi victims have now joined forces to call for a more extensive probe, based on similar lines to the three-year investigation into communist infiltration of German public broadcaster ARD.

Sparwassers größte Stunde

Giselher Spitzer, a sports historian, is the initiator of the "Berlin Declaration," a project set up in September 2004 by victims of Stasi intrigue and doping which demands German sports organizations launch more stringent inquiries into East Germany's state-sanctioned manipulation of its sports industry.

Winfried Hermann from the Green party agrees that that the existing commission's research has been inadequate.

"White-washing the past is not fair to the victims of the problem," he told Die Welt.

Still relevant

And according to Spitzer, the problem is still highly topical.

"There is evidence to suggest that individuals who have been identified as Stasi agents are returning to sports," he said, pointing to examples of former collaborators who now hold senior positions in the North German Soccer Association (NOFV).

Bernd Stange Trainer von Nationalfußballmannschaft von Irak

In a highly controversial move, the Interior Ministry last year invited East Germany's former national team coach Bernd Stange (who went on to train the Iraqi national team under Saddam Hussein) to a symposium in Leipzig on the World Cup 2006. According to the Birthler Behörde, Stange (photo) was a Stasi informer for 14 years.

Most recently, Roland Gehrke, trainer of the up-and-coming Luckenwalde wrestling club, was revealed to have been an informer between 1977 and 1988, allegedly passing on information about his colleagues' extra-marital affairs, sexual orientation, drinking habits and political leanings.

Taking offendors to task

Spitzer maintains that by 1989, the Stasi had enlisted some 3,000 informers from within East Germany's sporting ranks. How many of them are still working in the industry today is unknown, primarily because few authorities have ever initiated investigations.

Doping, Urinproben

"According to German sports law, no one who worked for the Stasi or treated athletes with steroids is allowed to hold a top position," said Spitzer, referring to the case of Wolfgang Nitschke, the trainer of the German wrestling team who was dismissed last November. "The Berlin Declaration says that in cases of conflict, the state should withdraw funding from associations which fail to dismiss guilty parties."

As it stands, associations prefer to turn a blind eye -- for two reasons. "On the one hand, there can never be complete certainty about just how dangerous agent activity was," explained Spitzer. "And on the other hand, many of these trainers are key to sporting success and no one wants to see them dismissed."

"Widespread lack of awareness means the issue continues to be treated as harmless," he stressed. "Ultimately, that means that former Stasi agents will be allowed to set the pace in German sports."

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