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Medal Machine Grinding to Halt : East Germany: After years of special treatment, sports programs must struggle to survive in democratic society.

March 28, 1990|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"As we move toward equality of sports, there are a lot of problems that have to be solved," Neumann said. "When you think of 41 federations, that is not very much money."

As a result, the DTSB has employed the former general secretary of its track and field federation, Heinz Czerwinski, as its marketing agent.

He signed Western sponsors for some sports that have high visibility here--Volvo and Grundig, a West German electronics company, for track and field; Spaten, a West German brewery, for bobsled; Kaufhof, a West German supermarket chain, for team handball; and Wella, a West German cosmetics company, for women's volleyball.

Czerwinski said a sport such as track and field will have more money than before. Although some winter sports federations did not enter international competition this year for financial reasons, he said track and field could afford for the first time to send runners to last weekend's world cross-country championships in France.

He said he eventually will find money for all sports.

"If East Germany is not as successful in future Olympics, it will not be for lack of money," he said. "That is an optimistic view, but I think it is also realistic."

Neumann disagreed.

"You need government assistance," he said. "Some think we can live from sponsors, but that is impossible. If you have quality, you have sponsors. If we lose our quality, sponsors will not be here."

East Germany's decline in sports is inevitable, he said.

"The secret of our success was in finding the talented children and giving them qualified coaching in ages 10, 11, 12, 13 and so on along with a network of competitions," he said. "There was close cooperation among athletes, coaches and physical therapists."

But the system already is collapsing, starting with the sports schools. Athletically gifted children were recruited by the DTSB at young ages, placed in schools that specialized in certain sports and prepared to become medal winners.

About three-fourths of the families that were approached to send their children to the schools agreed, simply because successful athletes had privileges that were beyond average East Germans.

"Sports schools are still in existence, but we don't know how the new minister of education will decide to use them," Neumann said.

"In some schools, we had five kids and seven teachers. It was very expensive. Already, we have signs from the minister of education that we have to reduce the number of teachers and increase the number of students."

Similarly, the sports college in Leipzig that trained coaches had been ordered by the government to expand the curriculum and open its doors to other students.

"It will be a regular, independent university," Neumann said. "We hope it will continue to support us, but we can't behave in the old authoritarian style and tell them to subordinate themselves to our goal of making medals."

The research center connected to the college also faces changes. Because of the secrecy surrounding previous activities there, sports officials in other countries suspected all sorts of nefarious projects, many of them involving performance-enhancing drugs.

Neumann acknowledged that there was a small percentage of "black sheep" among East German athletes who used drugs. He said 13 athletes among 5,000 tested positive last year.

But he denied that the practice was encouraged by the DTSB. He said many of the experiments in Leipzig simply duplicated similar research in other countries, including the United States.

"There was a veil of secrecy that was completely unnecessary," he said. "There are no secrets among experts."

The army and the police, which supported many of East Germany's postgraduate athletes, also are decreasing the amount of money they spend on sports. And sports clubs, often connected with the sports schools and funded by factories to provide subsistence for athletes not associated with the army or the police, are cutting back.

"You must be very positive that man is a free man now," Neumann said. "He can do whatever he likes. He can use his talents and creativity to develop the way he wants.

"We want to continue high-performance sports. But it must be based on the will of every individual and the will of the society as a whole.

"We are a small country. We have only 16 million people. We can't concentrate on just winning medals. We must make society enjoyable for everyone."

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