By Paul Gardner
Drugs again. Since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, we've learned a lot about the state-sponsored doping schemes that the East Germans set up to ensure that their Olympic athletes were always among the best.
Now comes the shock. We’re discovering that it wasn’t just East German athletes who used performance-enhancing drugs. The West Germans were playing the same game. It has leaked out that a report, prepared at Berlin’s Humboldt University, details such activity in West Germany. It also contains the allegation that state-sponsored research into performance-enhancing drugs -- such as anabolic steroids, testosterone, oestrogen and EP -- became “systematic” in the early 1970s.
News that might be greeted with a shrug by the soccer community. Because, when it comes to doping, soccer’s history is a remarkably clean one. As it happened, just three days before the leak about the West German activities, FIFA’s chief medical officer, Dr. Jiri Dvorak had publicly stated his confidence that “there is no systematic doping in soccer. There is no systematic doping culture in soccer. I am confident of this. Of course there are individual cases, for sure. We do more than 30,000 sampling procedures every year and we have between 70 to 90 positive cases, most of them for marijuana and cocaine and we have also anabolic steroids, but these are individual cases.”
A statement that, I think, rings true for most people. There are plenty of doping scandals in other sports -- cycling and the various Olympic disciplines, and most recently, baseball -- but not in soccer.
Now, out of the blue, comes the German report as a reminder that it’s never a good idea to be too certain of anything in the volatile world of sports. Because the leaked report, while it appears to be mainly concerned with Olympic athletes, does contain a mention of soccer.
At the moment, the facts are rather hazy, because only parts of the report are available. The study, commissioned by the German Federal Institute for Sport Science (BISp), was supposed to have been published last year, but concerns about privacy and legal issues delayed that. But after parts of it were published in the Sueddeutsche Zeitungnewspaper, pressure grew for the full report to be issued, and for names to be named, if only to clear those athletes who were clean. Earlier this week the German government announced that the legal problems were no longer problems, and released the full report.
Not so, said the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, claiming that chunks of the report were still being held back. So the soccer mentions remain vague. The most titillating of them concerns the 1966 World Cup, in which the Germans reached the final where they lost to England. That World Cup was also the first one to include drug-testing.
According to the report, a letter exists, from FIFA’s then medical officer, Dr. Mihailo Andrejevic, informing the German Athletic Association president, Max Danz, that traces of the banned stimulant ephedrine had been detected in the urine of three West German players.
That may not sound like a big deal -- traces of a drug in three players of a team that, 47 years ago, didn’t win anyway -- but it is worrying because there is a history here.
When the West Germans won their first World Cup in 1954 -- defeating the heavily favored Hungarians -- there were immediate accusations that their players had been receiving special injections. Reports in Italy claimed that several of the German players had come down with jaundice.
In 2004 a German television documentary established that injections were indeed given to the players -- the team doctor, now 84, had admitted as much, but said the injections were nothing more than vitamin C. He also allowed that the jaundice that affected eight players might have spread because the hypodermic needles were not properly sterilized.
All this proves nothing, but it is worrying because it is suggestive. If both the 1966 and the 1954 teams (and the Germans didwin that one) are under a cloud, where does that leave the 1974 team, World Cup winners at a time when the leaked report suggests that doping in West Germany had become “systematic”?
And how very odd that the 1982 West German World Cup team arrived in Spain accompanied by stories that they were using a newly developed drink called MS-61, which contained ginseng and “biocatalysts” and which was supposed to help ward off fatigue. That year, the Germans were again in the final -- but they were the ones who looked tired in losing the final to Italy.
The fact that no one paid much attention to this miracle drink tells you that drug-testing, in 1982, was not yet taken too seriously. Things have changed mightily since then. FIFA and Dr. Dvorak keep a much tighter watch on the doping scene now.