News for January 1, 1997

A cheery story to open the year

Fifty leading sports officials from former East Germany are to be charged with bodily harm for supplying competitors with banned performance-enhancing drugs.

A spokesman for the Berlin justice ministry said prosecutors were preparing charges against about 50 East German sports administrators, doctors and trainers and that the first charges could be brought next year.

"The investigations are continuing," said Ruediger Reiff, the justice ministry spokesman. "It is a very large and complicated issue.

"The charges being prepared are bodily harm through doping of East German sportsmen."

The investigations, launched about 18 months ago, involve huge amounts of documentation so, to make their cases more manageable, prosecutors have focussed on swimming, cycling, athletics and weightlifting.

Despite its small population of 17 million, East Germany consistently produced a string of champions, winning almost as many Olympic medals as the United States or former Soviet Union.

About 20 athletes have already filed suit against their former mentors, among them weightlifter Roland Schmidt, who had to have breast-like tissue amputated from his chest because of steroid abuse.

Charges will only be laid, though, in cases where the athletes were given drugs without their knowledge which means prosecutors are concentrating principally on the doping of children and youths.