Matt Butler: East German revelations more than a tasty soundbite

View From The Sofa: Luis Suarez coverage, Sky Sports News / Record Fakers, Radio 5 Live
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The Independent Online

When the professional wrestlers "Road Dogg" Jesse James and Billy Gunn offered their opinions on Sky Sports News on "that guy from Liver... uh... the soccer player", it was safe to say that we had heard more than enough about Luis Suarez and his bite.

But no. That particular segment was only two days after the infamous chomp. We had almost a whole week of nodding heads, furrowed brows and experts on dental foul play to fill the airspace available to the 24-hour news cycle on TV and radio. Aside from the wrestlers, Sky Sports largely filled its time with repeat screenings of the offence while its pundits said what a grave transgression the bite was.

Of the talking heads, Gary Neville was the best value. In pointing out the differences between English people and, well, foreigners, he said: "We're more 'throw your shirt off, get your knuckles out and have a scrap'." The inference was clear.

Over on 5 Live, early in the week at least, they adopted a more measured approach – and one that gave us a little more insight. Shelagh Fogarty, on her lunchtime show, had on three sportspeople who could all offer something about underhand sporting violence: James Haskell, the England flanker; Keri-Anne Payne, the open water swimmer; and Frank Sinclair, who once played with Dennis Wise.

But by Friday we'd had enough. Not only had David "speaking as a dad" Cameron stuck his oar in, Suarez and his teeth had even managed airtime on Woman's Hour, on Radio 4 of all places – the station that barely acknowledges football exists. Their verdict was "well, he should stop acting like a toddler".

Thankfully, in a week where the white noise of rolling news and talk radio threatened to drown out everything else, there was one programme that actually told you something you didn't know before. It was Record Fakers, on 5 Live, a superbly put-together programme by Mike Costello on the aftermath of the state-run doping programme in East Germany in the 1980s. What it taught us was not that doping was so widespread but that the athletes themselves were so traumatised, and remain so today.

One, Heidi Krieger, won European gold in the shot put in 1986, but claimed matter-of-factly that the steroids, given to her with the explanation that they were vitamins, "threw her out of her gender". He is now a man called Andreas (above, before and after).

Another, sprinter Ines Geipel, talked of unwanted surgery and athletes being locked in wooden crates so they wouldn't flee the system. And Werner Franke, a professor and campaigner for the athletes, who had also gained access to state files, said there were many more equally harrowing tales of young people's lives being ruined by the megalomaniac types determined to see that their country was the best in sport. It sounded almost too far-fetched to be true – let alone something that was going on less than 30 years ago. And it made you think twice about denouncing the dopers of the 1980s as mere cheats. After all, unlike Marion Jones, Justin Gatlin, Ben Johnson or Lance Armstrong, it didn't sound like the East Germans were offered a choice.

The British athletes on the programme, including Kathy Cook, Christina Boxer and Wendy Sly, were understandably disappointed that they were denied the chance to stand higher on the podium at various championships by cheats, but the overriding message was that the East German athletes themselves fared far worse. It was enlightening, something to really get your teeth into. Which, especially last week, was more than welcome.