By Phillip Whitten
PHOENIX, February 16. JOHN Coates, the head of the Australian Olympic Committee, stirred up a hornets’ nest today with his comments on Helge Pfeifer, the former head of the infamous East German doping regime.
One week ago, SwimInfo broke the story that Helge Pfeiffer had been hired as a “flume expert” to assist in training Chinese swimmers for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The Shanghai Daily News had run a story that day that mentioned Pfeifer – though not her criminal past – upon the dedication of that country’s first flume.
Today, Nicole Jeffery, writing in The Australian, picked up the SwimInfo story and elaborated upon it, asking Coates for his reaction to the hiring of Pfeiffer.
Quoth he: "We are satisfied the Chinese are doing everything possible to combat doping in sport, and this woman's involvement in flume technology, which is perfectly legal, doesn't alter their stance."
Coates’ naïve statement brought an immediate rejoinder this morning from John Leonard, Executive Director of the American Swimming Coaches Association:
“I would ask you to reconsider your comments and specifically, demand both explanation from your counterparts at the Chinese Olympic Committee, and Chinese Swimming, and Dr. Pfeiffer’s expulsion from China,” he wrote in an e-mail to Coates.
“Australian and American swimmers and coaches largely depend on our national swimming federations and our national Olympic Committees to stand up for clean sport. When a distinguished figure such as yourself brushes off the fact that the LEADER of the horrific former East German Doping regime in swimming is working in China, a nation with an absolutely miserable record in doping in the past, and simply says ‘this woman's involvement in flume technology which is perfectly legal, doesn't alter their stance against drugs,’ it is both insulting to the intelligence and the morality of swimmers and coaches worldwide.
“Absolutely NO ONE is buying that!
“This woman is a sport criminal who fled Germany to avoid prosecution and went underground for 13 years. The Australian (or American, for that matter) Olympic Committee, through you, burying its head in the sand to avoid antagonizing the Chinese is repugnant in the extreme.
“The momentum of today's society towards clean sport demands that the Australian and USA Olympic Committees, as well as WADA, demand explanations and the expulsion of this woman from the sporting community and nation of China.
“You are backing the right of a sport to employ a criminal. I ask you to reconsider that position, and come out strongly in support of her immediate removal. By doing so, you will be in support of clean competition and its results for Australian and world swimmers.”
We will keep you informed if and when Coates replies.