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Sharron Davies on East Germany’s manly sportswomen


THE Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) was a showcase for communism in sport. I remember their blue-shirted football team in the World Cup in 1974, when their strictly organised, risk-averse tactics overcame eventual winners West Germany in the group stage, before losing to Brazil. More successful was the Soviet satellite state’s performance at the Olympic Games. Watching East German women win race after race, my siblings and I often remarked on their manly appearance.

East German girls had swept the board at the World Swimming Championships in 1971 and 1975. They broke records repeatedly. First competing at the Olympics in Montreal in 1976, British swimmer Sharron Davies observed their dauntingly tall and muscular physique. In her polemic Unfair Play: the Battle for Women’s Sport, Davies describes the state doping programme, which was fully exposed after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Girls as young as six were picked out, allocated to a sport fitting their bodily features and placed in specialised training schools. Parents were not informed that their daughter would be given anabolic steroids from age 11 onwards. Indeed, the girls were told that the daily powder that they ingested, from a packet labelled ‘Dynastal’, contained vitamins and minerals to boost recovery from the arduous training. As Davies notes, the manifestations were obvious: ‘Taking testosterone as a female changes your voice, gives you an Adam’s apple, shrinks your womb painfully, thins your hair, grows hair on your face, builds a different body shape and more.’

The East German authorities knew that the high doses of testosterone caused lasting harm to the young female recipients: enlarged heart, impaired liver function, arthritis, underdeveloped ovaries and a serious risk to fertility. But there was no concern for individual autonomy in the communist system: anything could be justified by the greater good.

The state programme was highly effective as East German athletes won an incredible number of medals for a country of 14million. Significantly, most of the medals were won by women. Although sportsmen were also given steroidal supplements, the pumping of testosterone into female athletes gave them a much bigger advantage over competitors.

At Montreal, Roland Matthis was the only male swimming medallist from the DDR, winning bronze. The women took ten golds, five silvers and one bronze. Sharron Davies, as an excited 13-year-old competitor, felt sad for the East German teenagers who were not allowed to socialise. They stayed on a ship on the St Lawrence River and whenever they disembarked they were under constant supervision of team officials.

The haul was much larger in Moscow in 1980, a tournament boycotted by the US. In retaliation the Soviet bloc stayed away from the following Olympiad in Los Angeles, but in Seoul in 1988, East German women returned to the podium, winning 20 swimming medals, while the men took merely four.    

When coach Rolf Gläser was asked why the girls in his squad at Montreal had such deep voices, he replied that ‘they don’t come here to sing, they come to swim’.

As the DDR collapsed, the Stasi tried to destroy all traces of its dastardly schemes to control the populace. Documentary evidence of State Plan 14.25, however, was salvaged from the shredding machines. This was the biggest sport scandal of the last century.

In 1990, when the doping operation was exposed, its former chief Manfred Höppner admitted to Stern magazine that there were no controls in the 1970s because the International Olympics Committee was complicit.

Instead of investigating the industrial doping, the IOC appointed DDR officials to its medical and scientific committees, and accredited the laboratory at Kreische in Saxony where positive drug tests were hidden. The East Germans developed expertise in maximising testosterone levels in training, and reducing these before competition to pass random testing. 

After the reunification of Germany, the east has turned rightwards politically and the Alternative for Deutschland prospers there (except in cosmopolitan Berlin). Nowadays, the biggest threat to women is not socialist totalitarianism, but the ‘progressive liberalism’ of the West. The East German people have thus moved from economic to cultural Marxism, the latter serving a global corporatist technocracy with its tactics of divide and rule.

Whereas in the 1970s female athletes were made masculine, the new scam is men pretending to be women. Davies’s book rails against this absurdity and the devastating impact on female participation in sport. But she is fighting with few allies from past and present athletes. A petition against the trans incursion drew dozens of signatures from leading figures such as Paula Radcliffe, but all removed their names before publication, leaving only Davies. Hardly suffragettes, are they?

Speaking out is a serious risk to team selection, sponsorship and media appearances. Harry Potter author J K Rowling has the fame and wealth to carry on regardless in challenging trans ideology, but lesser mortals might find their career brought to an abrupt end. Harvard biologist Carole Hooven, after writing an article on medical schools denying biological sex and a subsequent interview on Fox News, was targeted by the university’s Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, a campaign that escalated after publication of Hooven’s book T: the Story of Testosterone. No graduate would work with her, and she resigned from her illustrious academic position.

When male bodies stand on a podium meant for sportswomen and female competitors and commentators say nothing, this brings to mind the wartime recruitment poster of a child asking her father ‘what did you do in the war?’ For those lacking the courage and conviction of Davies in confronting the trans takeover, the answer might be ‘I made sure that I wasn’t accused of transphobia.’

My only gripe with Davies’s book is a feminist tendency to blame transgenderism on misogyny. This suggests that men generally are trying to break into women’s spaces, which isn’t true. In fact, many of the people promoting subversive gender politics are middle-class women, expressing luxury beliefs. Men and boys are suffering from pervasive oestrogen in the environment, and plummeting sperm counts. But Davies’s book is an important rebuttal of the notion that anything trans in sport is either evidence-based or ethical.

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