ADN-ZB-Mittelstädt-17.8.78-ma-Berlin: Das Fußball-Oberligakollektiv des BFC Dynamo.


The range of evidence and countries involved in doping advises caution against a one-dimensional criticism and demonisation of the ‘Other Europe’.

Published on on June 19, 2012

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Top-level sport was a crucial instrument of the ruling communist party (SED) for breaking the West’s diplomatic embargo of the GDR, [1] for propagating the merits of the country’s state socialist system, and for underpinning the regime’s tacit social compact with the East German population. The GDR’s sporting accomplishments can be measured in world records and medals in mega events like the Olympic Games. From 1972 onwards, the GDR never fell below third in the unofficial rankings at a summer or winter Olympics and, to the great satisfaction of its political and sports leaders, always finished above its main ‘imperialist’ foe, that is, its West German sibling.

Given the high political stakes and with the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich in mind, a highly centralised sports model was established by the late 1960s which encompassed, among its main elements, a well-resourced group of elite sports and an elaborate system of talent spotting and training. The use of illicit performance-enhancing substances, such as amphetamines and anabolic steroids, became part of a clandestine state system that took final shape in 1974-75. The key doping substance from the late 1960s onwards was the anabolic-androgenic drug Oral-Turinabol which was distributed in tablet form to thousands of elite athletes. It is estimated that at least 2,000 top performers were doped in any given year since the mid-1970s as part of a system that also involved about 1,500 to 2,000 sports officials, medical doctors, trainers and secretaries. The delivery of the doping system was based on a centrally determined plan for each sports federation which, at the bottom of the chain, was broken down into individual training programmes regulating the levels and types of drugs to be administered to performers. The latter were, as far as possible, to be kept unaware of what was being administered and were not informed about potential adverse side-effects.

Football, an integral component of the centralised sports system, was one of the thirteen sports designated in 1969 for special state funding as part of the upper elite tier known as ‘Sport 1’. Political leaders such as the Minister of State Security Erich Mielke, a sports enthusiast and a behind-the-scenes manipulator of the domestic supremacy of his favourite football team Dynamo Berlin, originally envisaged high political dividends from the international success of the most popular sport in the country. Expectations were not fulfilled: only FC Magdeburg won a European competition – the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1974 – and the national team only qualified once for the World Cup finals, also in 1974, when it gained a sensational 1-0 victory in Hamburg over the West Germans in a qualifying group. But whereas the GDR failed to make the next round, West Germany proceeded to win the cup, an outcome that helped reinforce the appeal of the West German national team and clubs such as Bayern Munich for East German football fans.

Given that doping is generally regarded as vital for the GDR’s position as a sports superpower, does the relative lack of success of its national team and clubs mean that football was a doping-free zone? It is frequently argued that doping was, and is, of little or no benefit in so unpredictable and complex a team sport as football, a claim seemingly backed up by the low number of positive tests throughout the world game. With regard to the GDR, Bernd Stange, a former trainer at a leading club, Carl Zeiss Jena, and of the national team in the 1970s and 1980s, asserted in a 2004 publication that doping in football is ‘meaningless’. [2] This claim is rejected by two British researchers Dominic Malcolm and Ivan Waddington who have shown that illicit performance-enhancing substances have long been prevalent in football and that their significance has not been fully recognised by FIFA officials. [3] Stimulants such as the widely-used amphetamines activate the brain, stimulate the heart rate and so increase alertness and physical endurance. Anabolic steroids, which increase body weight and muscular development, are believed to increase aggression, assist recovery from injury and facilitate intensive training programmes. East German football, however, provides evidence that doping can backfire if the wrong dosages are administered: in 1966, a prescribed substance by the state’s Sports Medical Service (SMD) director, Dr. Welsch, for the game against Hungary induced drowsiness among GDR players. [4]

Declassified GDR sources, though not without their interpretative problems, support Malcolm and Waddington’s argument and offer a rare insight into one of football’s grey areas. The main sources for the study of doping in East German football are the extant documentation of the former Ministry of State Security (Stasi), one of whose main functions was the protection of the state’s clandestine doping programme in top-level sport. The Stasi deployed several thousand informers (IM – Inoffizieller Mitarbeiter) to help fulfil its overall security mission in elite sport, among them sports physicians and sports officials with special responsibilities for the delivery of the mammoth doping programme. In football, the main sources are the files that contain the reports to their controllers of three informers, Dr. Manfred Höppner (IMV “Technik”), Dr. Wolfgang Klein (IME “Werner”) and Dr. Rudolf Müller (GI “Ernst Lache”). Klein was the Dynamo Dresden club doctor, Müller the deputy director of the SMD. Höppner, who held key positions such as head of tha latter’s high performance sport department 2, was the Stasi’s main source of information in elite sport from 1963 to 1989. Informers’ files, though vital for the reconstruction of doping in football, are not free of methodological problems. Not only is the information fragmentary but also details are sometimes ambiguous, as for example, which drugs were administered and with whose knowledge. Stasi materials can be supplemented by the recollections of former players such as Gerd Weber and Jörg Berger; these sources, in addition to the files of SED central and regional organs, form the basis of analyses by academics and investigative journalists. [5]

What do the East German records tell us about doping? Only the general pattern can be traced here. The first point to note is that doping was approved only for the national team and for those clubs, for example Dynamo Dresden and Dynamo Berlin, when participating in international competitions such as the European Cup. The authorities banned doping in the domestic game, one reason being the fear that the programme would be so extensive that it risked disclosure of malpractice and thereby damage the international standing of the GDR as a sports nation. The second feature is that cases of doping in football are well documented throughout the period 1965 to 1989; [6] the first instance was the administration of hemostyl to several members of the national team before the match with Austria in the summer of 1965. Other instances of the doping of national team players have been documented for 1967 and 1988, with steroids being recorded in 1989. Powerful psycho-stimulants such as sydnocarb or aponeuron were used by the national team in the game against Poland in 1983. Amphetamines were administered before the 1983 Olympic qualifying encounter with Switzerland in the same year.

Turning to doping at club level, Dynamo Dresden players were administered drugs, probably the psycho-stimulant oxytocin, before the team’s European Cup game with Partisan Belgrade in September 1979. [7] Nine years later, amphetamines and psycho-stimulants were taken by Dynamo Berlin players before the home match against Werder Bremen in the European Cup, but, significantly, not in the return leg. Psycho-stimulants were also part of a major experiment with elite sports performers in the 1984-88 Olympic Games cycle, with two Lokomotive Leipzig players and at least twelve from another club, possibly FC Magdeburg or Dynamo Dresden, being incorporated into the research programme. Perhaps the most revealing evidence comes from a routine check by the Central Doping Control Laboratory at Kreischa in October 1983, shortly before Lokomotive Leipzig and Dynamo Berlin were due to take part in European competition. Thirteen of the Berlin squad had been administered amphetamines and seven of them methamphetamines; small traces of the latter were found in the urine sample of three Leipzig players a few days before a domestic league match. According to Höppner, not only had the Berlin players recorded higher levels of drugs than officially approved but also that this was the first time that a regular laboratory check before engagements abroad had produced evidence of doping in a normal top division (Oberliga) game. Höppner was most concerned that two of the Berlin players, Götz and Schlegel, who had since fled the GDR, might have been aware that they had been doped and were therefore in a position to pass on information in the West. [8] Such was the sensitivity of the incident that Höppner and his Stasi controller decided to conceal the positive tests from Manfred Ewald, the autocratic DTSB President and top GDR sports official.

The laboratory tests had exposed the prevalence of ‘wild’ doping, that is, the use of performance-enhancing substances in contravention of official guidelines and procedures.  Höppner confided to his controller that not only did football lack the kind of overall conception for doping that was characteristic of other sports but also that all top football clubs engaged in unauthorised doping. [9] However, given the widespread nature of the problem, measures were initiated by Ewald to bring Byzantine ‘wild’ doping under control. One such measure was the selection for testing of two players per Oberliga team in April 1985. Despite advance warning, two FC Union Berlin players tested positive for the anabolic steroid Depot-Turinabol. While Union could have been relegated from the Oberliga, no punitive action was taken other than to terminate the contract with Union of the sports physician responsible for administering the drugs. The controls also confirmed that ‘wild’ doping was common on the lower level of the footballing ladder whose top rungs were occupied by Dynamo Berlin, Dynamo Dresden, Lokomotive Leipzig, FC Magdeburg and Carl Zeiss Jena. The Jena club, generously backed by the eponymous local optics conglomerate, took advantage of its networks to establish illicit doping schemes in the 1970s and 1980s. The club’s national team representatives brought back to Jena information on drugs such as amphetamines; moreover, the club was able to obtain the Oral-Turinabol tablets that were produced by the local Jenapharm state enterprise and distributed to the sporting elite in clubs such as SC Motor Jena, with whom the football club had many official and unofficial personal contacts. [10]

The abundant evidence of ‘wild’ doping indicates that the much vaunted GDR elite sport ‘miracle’ machine ran far from smoothly; it was plagued by bitter rivalries between clubs, a phenomenon disparaged by the sports authorities as the ‘club egoistical’ drive for success and by one well-connected Stasi informer as ‘the freedom of fools’. [11] Club officials, coaches and sports physicians stood to gain materially in terms of salaries and bonuses as well as in status and other non-material benefits from the achievements of their sports stars. While ‘wild’ doping was common practice in other sports, it was deeply rooted in football with its strong community ties, its extensive popular base, and the willingness of local and regional SED bodies, as in Dresden, to countenance pharmaceutical means to outstrip rival clubs. [12] This is also true of the mighty Dynamo Sports Association, the umbrella sports organisation of the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of the Interior and the Customs Administration. The Associations’ own leading football clubs, Dynamo Dresden and Dynamo Berlin, resorted to the very illicit practices that the Ministry of Security was entrusted to combat as part of its mission to safeguard GDR sport.

While doping, whether authorised or not, was undoubtedly extensive in GDR football over at least two decades, the mosaic has many gaps. The evidence is too fragmented for commentators to be categorical about the degree of systematisation and frequency of dosage administration. There is, for example, nothing comparable in football to the detailed data on the drug consumption of many performers in other sports, for example, the track and field athletes Margitta Gummel, Marita Koch and Marlies Göhr. A second and highly contentious problem concerns levels of knowledge and awareness among trainers and especially their charges of drug usage. An elaborate system was implemented to conceal from elite sports performers the kind of performance-enhancing substances they were receiving. For example, labels were removed from packages and tablets or pills were mixed with drinks and vitamins. Athletes were also kept in the dark about the potential adverse side affects such as periods of aggression and liver damage associated with anabolic steroids. The cover-up, which involved sports physicians at national and club level, was facilitated in football by the need for legal supplements and injections to help players recover from the exertions and injuries common in so physical a sport. Very few players had the scientific knowledge to appreciate the full risks of anabolic steroids and psycho-stimulants, even if they were conscious of the potential performance benefits. Gerd Weber, the ex-Dynamo Dresden footballer, is one of the few players to have openly confirmed that doping occurred in GDR football: shortly after his flight from the GDR, he stated in an interview with a West German magazine that East German footballers were regularly administered white pills before international games. [13] Even if players suspected what was being administered, there were good reasons for not pursuing the issue, among them, the threat to their careers of critical enquiry and the desire to prevent a rival from gaining a competitive advantage.

From a comparative perspective, the well-substantiated evidence of doping in GDR football refutes claims that illicit substances were rarely used in the past and are of little benefit to performance enhancement in the sport. While declassified primary sources provide a more detailed picture of doping in East German football and elite sport than is possible for any other state both before and after the end of the Cold War, data assembled by Malcolm and Waddington and recent research in Germany establish conclusively that doping also took place among East Germany’s footballing rivals in the West. [14] The range of evidence and countries involved in doping thus advises caution against a one-dimensional criticism and demonisation of the ‘Other Europe’ that forms, directly or implicitly, a cordon sanitaire around Western societies and sports systems. [15] Nor should doping, whether in the GDR or elsewhere, be seen as an isolated phenomenon; it constitutes an intrinsic element in modern elite sport with all the convergent political, media, economic and social pressures on trainers, performers, officials and sports scientists to follow its basic win/lose binary code. Finally, illicit doping should not be separated from other links in the chain of medicalisation that entails the regular and frequently excess use of legal substances to aid recovery from injury and to provide relief from pain, with all the ensuing risks of short and long-term damage that, as major European and World Championships highlight, are encoded in the DNA of football. [16]

Note: The author wishes to acknowledge a grant from the British Academy that helped fund a project on East German sport.


  1. The German Democratic Republic existed as a separate state between 1949 and 1990. The term is used interchangeably with ‘East Germany’.
  2. Heiko Mallwitz (2004), Trainer zwischen den Welten: Bernd Stange (Anderbeck: Mitteldeutsche Verlagsanstalt), 184.
  3. Dominic Malcolm and Ivan Waddington (2008), “’No systematic doping in football’: A critical review”, Soccer and Society, 9:2, 198-214. The IOC’s first list of doping classes, in 1967, included stimulants; anabolic steroids were banned in 1974. FIFA, which has tended to follow the International Olympic Committee line, anticipated IOC drug testing when it introduced controls at the 1966 World Cup..
  4. BStU, MfS, ZA, Teilablage A479/85, vol. 3, ‘Abschrift zum Treffbericht’ 5 October 1966, p. 106. This article is based in part on this kind of primary source material held in the archives of the BStU, that is, the Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the Former German Democratic Republic. In the following footnotes, ‘BStU’ refers to the Commissioner, ‘ZA’ to the Central Archive and ‘MfS’ to the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit.
  5. The major study of doping in GDR football is Giselher Spitzer (2004) Fußball und Triathlon. Sportentwicklung in der DDR (Aachen: Meyer & Meyer Verlag), 55-69.
  6. I will forgo detailed referencing but the interested reader can pursue the sources and instances of doping in the Spitzer text above, as well as in Mike Dennis and Jonathan Grix (2012), Sport under Communism. Behind the East German ‘Miracle’ (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan), 95, 116-17, 154-5. For a succinct overview, see “Fußball: das DDR-System und der Fußball”, accessed 22 May 2012.
  7. Doping at Dynamo Dresden is examined in Ingo Pleil (2001), Mielke, Macht und Meisterschaft. Die “Bearbeitung” der Sportgemeinschaft Dynamo Dresden durch das MfS 1978-1989 (Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag), 231-8.
  8. BStU (1994), MfS und Leistungssport. Ein Recherchebericht, Reihe A: Dokumente, no. 1 (Berlin: BStU), 187-8.
  9. BStU, MfS, ZA, Teilablage A-637/79/II, no. 3, “Anlage zum Treffbericht IMB “Technik”,” April 1984, p. 427.
  10. Michael Kummer (2010), Die Fußballclubs Rot-Weiß Erfurt und Carl Zeiss Jena und ihre Vorgänger in der DDR. Ein Vergleich ihrer Bedingungen (Dissertation: Potsdam University), 296-7, 417-18. Kummer has also identified unauthorised doping at Rot-Weiß Erfurt.  .
  11. BStU, MfS, ZA, AIM 9351/86, “Anlage zum Treffbericht IMS “Kurt Wegener””, 6 May 1984, p. 133.
  12. Mike Dennis and Jonathan Grix (2010), “Behind the Iron Curtain: Football as a Site of Contestation in the East German Sports ‘Miracle’”, Sport in History, 30:3, 459-62, 467-8.
  13. The pills may have been aponeuron; see Spitzer, Fußball und Triathlon, 62; Pleil, Mielke, Macht und Meisterschaft, 237.
  14. “Fußball: Doping Affairen in Deutschland (BRD)”, accessed 22 May 2012.
  15. See Paul Dimeo, “Good versus evil? Drugs, sport and the Cold War”, East plays West. Sport and the Cold War, Stephen Wagg and David l. Andrews (ed.), (Abingdon and New York: Routledge), 149-62.
  16. See the report in The Independent, 6 June 2012, on recent FIFA data on pain medication.
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  • by Mike Dennis

    Is Professor of Modern German History, School of Law, Social Sciences and Communications, University of Wolverhampton.

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