Sports History Files: A new twist to Germany’s doping past

It’s not known at this point whether alleged state-sponsored doping of West German athletes dating back to the 1950s was as systematic and devastating as what was practiced in East Germany.

But a bombshell report published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung last weekend about research conducted by Germany’s federal insitute of sports science (BISp) figures to have German government and athletic interests on the defensive as they will be pressed to explain what decades ago:

West Germany’s system of doping was not developed as a response to the well-publicized practices of East Germany, the authors of the report say, but rather parallel to it. Several politicians apparently knew about and condoned the program.

Andreas Singler, a German sports science researcher, reportedly a participant in the “Doping in Germany from 1950 to Today” effort, said doping by West German athletes shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone:

“I think the misuse potential was very high and there was a hope from some in the government, not from the ministry itself, but the specialists for sports issues. I think they perhaps expected conditions that made it possible to have a chance to win, not only against the East Germans, but also the US.”

faustsgoldBut he did dispute that the West German government was at the heart of these activities, which would be a very big distinction from what happened in East Germany, and which only was widely revealed after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

The Munich-based newspaper detailed allegations of amphetamine use involving West Germany’s 1954 World Cup-winning soccer team, still a source of national sporting pride for its feats shortly after the end of World War II. That team was, as Rob Hughes reminds us in The New York Times, the inspiration for the great Franz Beckenbauer, who played for and coached later West German World Cup winners.

Sadly, Hughes falls for the same sentimentality that has wrapped up too many sportswriters about doping when he writes:

That, surely, is how sports grips us.

The innocence of childhood filled with the skills, the running and the spirit of our heroes.

Well, perhaps youth from another time, and this in large part explains the folly of the war on steroids that I’ve written about here before but that is fitting for another time. A younger generation has quite a different perspective on all this, a hopeful signal that this wasteful crusade may ultimately become extinguished by indifference.

Calls have begun for the release of the full doping report to the public, and more details are being demanded about whether some members of West Germany’s 1966 World Cup runner-up team — including a very young Beckenbauer — were using ephedrine.

Could this German doping saga prompt the kind of examination and produce the same kind of horror that was discovered in the East? On a certain level, probably not. Late last month, German cyclist Erik Zabel surprised no one by admitting to years of doping, including during the Tour de France, and lying about it.

But puncturing the symbol of Germany’s post-war sports mythology — Die Mannschaft and “Das Wunder von Bern” — could very well have that nation’s leading sports, political and journalistic voices sounding the same chords that continue to be heard in America over the “pastime.”

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