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Doping investigation casts cloud over West Germany’s accomplishments


Doping throughout the former East Germany’s sports programs has been known for some time, but West German sport was thought to be much cleaner than their eastern neighbors’. After reports that began leaking in Germany this weekend, however, it seems the West Germans had similar programs in place, programs which crossed over into soccer.

As the New York Times’ summary details, a government study titled “Doping in Germany from 1950 to Today” details use of amphetamines by West Germany’s 1954 World Cup winners, while the country’s doping program may have aided the development of players who appeared in the 1996, 1970, and 1974 World Cups. West Germany finished second, third and first in those respective finals.

From the Times, talking about the effect that 1954 title had on legend Franz Beckenbauer:

His cherished memory of 1954 is now questioned by the study’s report that players in Berne were given Pervitin, an amphetamine. It was commonly known as “speed” in sporting circles, and as “Panzer chocolate” because it had been developed to help make Nazi pilots and soldiers fly or fight for longer and better.

One aspect in the report that makes for chilling reading is that all of the players who took the dose were injected with a shared syringe. And one, the winger Richard Herrmann, died eight years later, of cirrhosis at the age of 39.

So the grim catalog goes on. It impinges on each of the three World Cups — 1966, 1970 and 1974 — for which “der Kaiser” Beckenbauer played so artistically and so competitively.

It relates to ephedrine being used by members of the 1966 World Cup team. Ephedrine is one of those drugs that can be used as a decongestant, a common cold cure, but also as a stimulant.

The piece goes on to talk about the potential implications of Germany’s investigation:

Germany’s government paid a lot for the study, but its full publication remains hampered by privacy and legal issues.

And some sections of the research, relating to athletes from the late 1990s onward, remain unpublished.

Indeed, it took a leak of the findings, in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper over the weekend, to flush out what has been disclosed thus far.

But this Pandora’s box, once opened, will not remain secret.

The rights of the athletes and players who were clean demands full disclosure.

Soccer looks less clean today than I believed it to be. The odd player risking a stimulant was bound to be in the system. But soccer’s defense was, and is, that it requires quick reactions as well as stamina, and that no single drug gives you both.

The piece makes no mention of whether Beckenbauer himself was part of the doping program(s).

I’m trying not to be too head in the sand about this, but if you’re telling me that some countries were doping their athletes 40-60 years ago, I’m telling you that there’s U.S. Open Cup tonight. I’m saying the Premier League season’s about to start. I’m focusing on Clint Dempsey’s Saturday debut. Quite frankly, I have better things to do than dwell on a bygone era. There’s enough going on right now.

That said, I am glad I know. I’m not mad, disappointed, or going to lead a charge to rewrite the record books, but when I do look at those books, I want to have as much information as possible. And West Germany potentially chemically creating their athletes? That helps me put their accomplishments into context.

The information also provides some disincentive for people to continue cheating, even though we know they’ll try. But if you’re a player at all concerned about your legacy, know that’s going to be seriously compromised if you’re using drugs. One way or another, people are likely to find out.