East German Athletes Can Sue, Court Rules

By Craig Lord

FRANKFURT, March 5. FORMER East German athletes who were victims of state organized doping can pursue the German Olympic Committee for damages after an appeal court ruling in Frankfurt today.

The appeals court ruled in favor of 33-year-old Karen Konig, who won relay gold medals at the European level for the German Democratic Republic (GDR), in her case for receiving 10,225 euros (about $10,225) in compensation for the consequences of her having been forced to take doping products during her time as an elite swimmer.

The court ruled that Germany's Olympic Committee was "certainly not the legal heir of the East German Committee. But the complainant’s demand for damages are the NOK’s (Germany's National Olympic Committee) reponsibility because they received all the funds remaining in the East German committee’s bank account when it ceased to exist." That sum is believed to have been 5.4 million marks (about$1.06 million).

Konig, a member of GDR's winning 4×100 and 4×200 freestyle teams at the 1985 European championships in Sofia, had already been a plaintiff in a previous civil case against Manfred Ewald and Manfred Hoppner, the two highest ranking officials in the East German Sports Federation. Ewald and Hoppner received suspended prison sentences of 22 months and 18 months respectively in July 2000 for the part they played in doping young athletes. Ewald died in 2002.

Konig described at the time how East German athletes had not had any choice but “to swallow pills we thought were vitamins under the eyes of our coaches” but in fact the pills were anabolic steroids which she began taking aged 14. Konig said the verdict represented a victory for her crusade to expose "the evils of the regime" in East Germany.

The NOK had previously refused to contribute to a fund, set up under a law passed in the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of Parliament, last June, to compensate the athletes. The NOK said it would wait for the outcome of the Konig case. The NOK would not comment today.

Some 50 athletes have come forward to claim compensation from the fund so far. The deadline for applications is the end of this month. It is estimated that 10,000 athletes were affected by the GDR's sports doping programme between 1970 and 1989, leaving many with liver cancer, psychological defects, fertility and hormonal problems.

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