Mixed reactions as evidence of communist-era doping of athletes comes to light

Czech weightlifter Otto Zaremba, Olympic Games Moscow, 1980, photo: CTK

Czechoslovak athletes were systematically given performance enhancing drugs under communism - that's according to secret documents which have just come to light. What form did the doping system take? And what has been the reaction to this week's revelations?

Czech weightlifter Otto Zaremba,  Olympic Games Moscow,  1980,  photo: CTK
Since the Velvet Revolution there had been speculation about a state doping policy in the communist era. Proof finally came this week, with evidence published in Monday's Mlada fronta Dnes showing that the central committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the then government approved doping programmes.

Doctors, trainers and sports officials all participated in a system of supplying anabolic steroids to athletes to improve their performance in international competitions.

And it had a clear political subtext: in a secret report, senior sports official Antonin Himl said the rational application of anabolic steroids would contribute to the political promotion of sport in the communist state - and strengthen Czechoslovakia's prestige.

The programme is believed to have started before the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

Leading athletes in the late 1970s and 1980s were faced with a choice: take banned substances or be kicked out of the national team.

Imrich Bugar,  photo: CTK
There has been a mixed reaction to the revelations. The chairman of the Czech Weightlifting Union Emil Brzoska said now documentation had come to light he would not deny that doping took place. But he said drugs had given Czechoslovak weightlifters extra drive. As a trainer I brought this country 83 medals and five world records - nobody will equal that feat in 200 years, says Mr Brzoska. He also says weightlifters themselves were keen to take drugs, in order to win.

Meanwhile, Imrich Bugar, a Slovak athlete who came first in the discus at the inaugural World Championships, denies testing positive for drugs in 1987, despite documentary evidence that traces of steroids were found in his blood.

Doctor Pavel Stejskal, who was the head of the office directly involved in supplying athletes with drugs, holds his hands up, saying he will not try to defend the indefensible. He says he considered going public at the time but didn't, to protect his family from persecution. Dr Stejskal, now a university lecturer in Olomouc, says he will never come to terms with what he did.

By contrast, the current head of the Czech Olympic Committee Milan Jirasek stepped down as doctor to the Czechoslovak junior skiing team when he learned about the doping programme.