Germany intends to keep its doping secret

Photo: Patrick Seeger

Photo: Patrick Seeger


By Andreas Strepenick
For nine years, a commission in Freiburg has investigated the sports legacy. Now, it has retired itself in protest. Will the doping secrets of West Germany ever come to light?

Germany's doping legacy is still known only in fragments. We know bits and pieces about state-sanctioned doping in the former GDR until its collapse in 1990. In contrast, we know nothing about the secret programmes operated by West Germany.

The epicentre of manipulations of West German top sports was Freiburg. For nine years, 2007 – 2016, an independent commission tried to dig out the secrets in this town in South West Germany. But it was rewarded with failure. Five out of six recognized anti-doping experts resigned from their assignment in the beginning of March. They protested against alleged loss of independence. 

Hans Hoppeler (Bern), Hellmut Mahler (Duesseldorf), Perikles Simon (Mainz), Fritz Sörgel (Nuremberg), and Gerhard Treutlein (Heidelberg) were assigned to investigate, together with Criminology and Mafia expert Letizia Paoli from the University of Leuven, the scandal-stricken sports medicine department at the University of Freiburg. With the exception of Paoli, everybody signed a public statement: "Whilst intending to deliver a trustworthy investigation, we cannot in any way compromise as to the unlimited independence which the commission had been guaranteed."

In their statement, all five experts severely criticized their employer, the University of Freiburg. They mainly held Hans-Jochen Schiewer, Headmaster and Director of the institution, responsible for the collapsed investigation.

In a personal letter, which Play the Game has access to, they addressed the Headmaster: "You, Headmaster Schiewer, are, due to the revocation by you personally of the commission's full independence, to be held responsible for our inevitable resignation. Furthermore, you are responsible for the failure of this historical task of bringing light to the dark Freiburg and German doping legacy."

Schiewer denied the allegations the same day. The University, he declared, has "not at any time limited any independence, whether scientific or content-related, in respect of the evaluation commission's assigned tasks, or even questioned it".

Investigations with limitations
However, there are indications that the university and its clinic, two of the largest and most prestigious institutions of its kind in Germany, in the course of the previous nine years have put up barrier after barrier. The assignment awarded in August of 2007 already seemed strangely limited. Apparently, the scientists were allowed only to occupy themselves with Professor Joseph Keul, one of the top sports medics of the time in Germany.

Until his death in 2000, Keul kept West Germany's Olympic teams under his wings. Numerous top athletes were doped in his department and advised on how to enhance their performance with drugs and methods forbidden in sports. Among others, the doctors in Keul's department handled the doping of the German bicycle team Telekom/T-Mobile for almost fifteen years. It was not until the year 2007 that the German news magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ uncovered the fraud and forced the university to finally turn its back on this period in its sports medicine. 

It was precisely in 2007, the scientists started to scan Keul's past. However, they never looked into his even more famous colleague and long-time Freiburg rival, Professor Armin Kluemper.

"Doc", once a household name all over the world, developed doping programmes for entire sports associations. According to documents available, almost all levels of the German Cycling Federation were subscribers to anabolic substances in the 1970's and 1980's. It has also been documented that Kluemper was active in doping within West German football. And it has already been a stated fact for decades that he supplied performance enhancers to West German athletes. "Doc" Kluemper is now 80 years old and is living in South Africa. He does not want to talk to journalists.

Fighting for access to documents
For five years, the now former members of the investigative commission evaded the life of Kluemper, dealing exclusively with Keul. Why? Letizia Paoli, who took charge of the commission by the end of 2009, claimed in 2013 that the university manipulated the commission's assignment from the start. It was the university itself that put a ban on any scrutiny of Kluemper and his assistants. This is not true, the university counters. The commission was autonomous in its assignments.

Paoli, the criminology expert, did not let go with that and uncovered further illogical circumstances. She was able to prove that one of the university's senior legal officers kept five boxes of documents on the former Olympics doctor in her apartment. Maybe with the intention of keeping them under the commission radar? To this question, the university is not able to give a convincing answer.

But the barriers kept building up in front of the scientists. For years, they were struggling to get access to files and critical documents that would allow more light to be shed on the Freiburg doping offensive on behalf of sports in West Germany. Paoli and her team went to search for them at the public prosecutor's office in Freiburg, to the sports associations and to the State ministry who for four decades had supported the Freiburg doctors with millions of taxpayers' money.

It has been a hard struggle. For as long as two and a half years, it was not possible for Freiburg's public prosecutor to locate a mountain of files, a total of 60 binders, on Kluemper, in their own archives. After the office had appointed a new head, however, the files turned up from an "external depository". Paoli and her team experienced the same closed attitude from the ministry of sports in Stuttgart. It was not until the spring of 2015, that one meter of files was made available there.

Crashing just meters from the goal line
Despite all resistance, the six scientists were almost in reach of the goal by early 2016.

They set out to prepare a comprehensive report, which would, for the first time, unveil what the Freiburg sports medicine really was about. They intended to describe which West German sports politicians expressly supported doping or just tacitly sanctioned it. They wanted to explain what the millions in funds were spent on, which the German state Baden-Württemberg and the federal state had allegedly always sent to Freiburg just for medical treatment of top athletes. The commission wanted to uncover the role of the university and its clinic in the clandestine programmes. But not least was the public anxious to know the answer to the question why the fraud had not been unearthed at an earlier stage.

But the anti-doping experts failed within reach of the goal line. They realised already by the end of February, that they were not going to produce a truly independent report together with the university. They were afraid of massive interference from legal experts who might check the report and the individual assessments previous to the publication. That is why they resigned.

March 1 was a day for celebration by the doping conspirators of the former Federal Republic of Germany. A short-lived joy, however. The scientists announced that they now intended to finish their work all by themselves. Fritz Sörgel, a pharmacologist from Nuremberg and one the leading German anti-doping experts, declared: "It is obvious, of course, that the members of the commission wish to offer their own opinion on matters, in a separate publication."

But also the university and its clinic has suffered a very serious blow to its international standing. Both institutions are struggling for their reputation and cannot afford to bury forever the subject of doping in Freiburg. They have to continue their research – however, without the commission. Already on March 1, did the Headmaster of the University, Schiewer, declare that it was about to establish its own "Research centre for doping and sports medicine". The positions of the centre will be tendered internationally.

Concerns on independency
Many observers doubt whether it will be possible to acquire a research institution independent of the university – in which the commission did not succeed. The German media once again look at this town with untiring eyes.

The university's hope for calm was soon blown away. One of the former members of the commission disclosed that for ages none less than the lawyer of the former doping doctor Kluemper had been advising the university on questions concerning the investigation activities. The lawyer represented Kluemper in the 1990's in court – as "Doc" wanted to prevent details of his secret manipulations from becoming known to the public.

In 2007, the university and its clinic chose this particular lawyer as their counsellor. And it was he, who was tasked to make a separate legal evaluation of a critical assessment of Kluemper. Even University Headmaster Schiewer had to admit that he had made a serious mistake. He had to offer his apologies to the authors of the assessment.

Letizia Paoli, the criminologist from Leuven in Belgium keeps silent as to the present dispute. She is tied by a contract between her university and the one in Freiburg. Actually, she is obliged to provide a final report. What would be the nucleus of such a report was made clear by her years ago: "Freiburg was the epicentre of doping in West Germany."

More information

Read more about the Freiburg investigation commission and its findings:

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