AGAINST Ekkart Arbeit's Appointment7 October 1997
East Germany's chief track and field coach during the era of government-sanctioned steroid abuse was named Australia's head coach today, a move that stunned a German investigator into sports doping.
Dr. Werner Franke, the German Parliamentary investigator into East German secret police files detailing sports drug abuse, said Dr. Eckhard Arbeit was "a major person responsible for the use of anabolic steroids."
Arbeit, 56, was head coach for throwing events of the East German track and field team from 1982-88 and chief coach in 1989-90. "At the time he was coach, there were plans of who should take how much drugs and how this should be co-ordinated. All that was his responsibility," Franke told The Associated Press on Wednesday by telephone from Germany.
Arbeit admitted knowledge of drug use in East Germany during his eight years in senior posts, saying it was "part of the time." "All over the world, and I was working also with athletes in the United States at the same time, everybody was taking drugs," Arbeit told The AP on Thursday. "Everybody took the same or more drugs than East Germany."
Arbeit said he would consider refusing the four-year contract, through the 2000 Olympics, if Australian reporters continued to press him on the drug issue.
"What was in the past, I don't know. What will be in the future is that we have a position, the Australian federation and me, that we will get results without drugs," Arbeit said.
Athletics Australia executive director Martin Soust said Arbeit was cleared by AA's investigations. "We've made these searches as extensive as we possibly can and there's nothing to suggest that he is involved directly in the use of performance enhancing substances," Soust said Thursday.
Berlin prosecutors are considering charges against East German coaches accused of supplying performance-enhancing drugs to unsuspecting minors, many of whom now suffer from liver and kidney problems or other illnesses as adults. The focus is currently on swimming, but will soon switch to track and field.
Franke said he believed Arbeit would likely be mentioned in court proceedings because he was in such a high-ranking position in the old regime. "Clearly, in the criminal court, accusations will be made in a few months time involving him and other coaches," Franke said. "How a judge will weigh his contribution relative to others, I don't know, but he is clearly in the chain of criminals.
"The head coach was always involved in drug abuse. He didn't give the pills, but he was determining who should receive what. Whole tables of drugs have been published of throwers and how much they took."
Arbeit said he did not know if he would be named in the hearings.
Franke said Arbeit was in charge of three throwers who won gold medals at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and whose drug dosages were later published in Germany.
"He was coach through the 1980s almost to the very end. That is the period of time where there is excellent documentation of which athlete received what," Franke said. "The gold medal winner in Seoul in the discus, Juergen Schult, the shot put men's gold medalist Ulf Timmermann and the women's discus champion Martina Hellmann have all had their drug dosages published."
Franke said there was a clear-cut procedure for putting athletes, including minors, on drugs during the six years Arbeit was throwing coach.
Australia has been a strong critic of drug use in sport, particularly in swimming, but also recently in track and field. Raelene Boyle won two silver medals in track behind East Germany's Renate Stecher, also linked to drug abuse, in 1972.
Soust admitted that for many Australians the words "East Germany" equaled drug abuse. "That's a perception out there and we'll have to work to correct it," Soust said.
"I would hope that a person of this caliber, by association or birth, is not perceived to be tainted by what other colleagues have done. "We have asked Dr. Arbeit about the drug issue and his comment was that he was not involved and has not been involved in any performance enhancing substance abuse in the past."