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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 March, 2005, 16:51 GMT
GDR athletes sue over steroid damage
Lothar Kipke
Lothar Kipke was convicted on 50 charges of causing bodily harm through steroids
A big group of former East German athletes is to sue a pharmaceuticals giant over the damage they suffered under the country's doping progamme of the 1970s and 80s.

The 160 athletes - some of them only 10 at the time - are each claiming damages of 10,000 Euros from Jenapharm, which produced the steroids on behalf of the East German government.

Jenapharm insists that the drugs were legal, but were misused by the coaches.

The case is set to be heard at the Court of Arbitration in Hamburg within months.

The athletes say they have suffered lasting damage.

"When sombebody suffers from liver damage for the rest of his life, when a woman has disabled children or is always mistaken for a man, no money and no amends can compensate for that," their lawyer, Michael Lehner, told BBC World Service's Sports International programme.

Mr Lehner said that in addition, the athletes wanted to "properly resolve" the scandal, and be presented as "victims - and not the culprits, which is what the sport bodies often do."

'Not possible to refuse'

The sporting success of the former East Germany was built on a state-run drug programme.

From 1972 to 1988, the GDR won 384 Olympic medals - and that haul did not include the LA games of 1984, which they boycotted.

East German swimmers
East Germany's swimmers came from nowhere to dominate the 1980 Olympics
The massive doping programme is reported to have involved tens of thousands of athletes - many of them children.

"It was not possible to refuse," explained Professor Giselher Spitzer, a sports historian at Potsdam University who has studied the programme.

Dr Spitzer said that the youngsters targeted in particular were ice skaters and gymnasts.

In total, two million tablets were given out each year to sportsmen and women.

The results have been horrendous for some of the athletes. The worst case is that of George Severs, who was found at the bottom of a swimming pool having suffered heart failure.

His parents were told he had drowned as a result of feeling weak from flu. It would be 20 years before the autopsy report showed he died due to toxic damage to the liver.

Today, it is estimated that around 10,000 former athletes bear the physical and mental scars of years of drug abuse.

Rica Reinisch, a triple Olympic champion and world record-setter at the Moscow Games in 1980, has since suffered numerous miscarriages and recurring ovarian cysts.

However, many of the athletes feel those responisble have not been brought to justice.

The toughest sentence handed down to the 356 convicted in the doping scandal has been to Dr Lothar Kipke, the head of the East German swimming federation who oversaw the drug programme from 1975 to 1985.

He received a fine of under $6,000 and a suspended jail sentence.

No-one implicated has spent a day in jail, which, Mr Lehner claims, is one of the reasons around 160 athletes are seeking justice.

Misused drugs

As a result, attention has now switched to pharmaceutical giant Jenapharm.

Jenapharm's Chief Executive, Isabelle Roth, told Sports International that although she was "deeply touched" by the suffering of the doping victims, in her view Jenapharm was not a "driving force" behind the GDR's national doping programme.

Jenapharm insists it merely sold the drugs - it was coaches who misused them
"As a part of a group of pharmaceuitcal companies, Jenapharm was obliged to collaborate in the State Plan 1425," she said.

"As is generally known, doping in the GDR was mostly done with Oral-Turinabol.

"This substance, manufacturered by Jenapharm, was legally approved by the GDR and available on the market.

"The drug was misused by sports physicians and trainers - as is generally acknowledged."

For this reason, she said Jenapharm could "not be held responsible."

Doping scandal reaches court
02 May 00 |  Europe
Sports doctor doped swimmers
12 Jan 00 |  Europe

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