BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government has given the green light for the creation of a second fund to pay compensation to athletes from the former East Germany whose health was damaged by a secretive state-supported doping program.
Until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, the use of performance enhancing drugs helped East Germany win hundreds of medals at the summer and winter Olympic Games amid fierce Cold War competition with West Germany.
An estimated 8,000-9,000 athletes were on the doping program from 1972-1989, the overwhelming majority without their knowledge.
The government on Wednesday said it had approved the drafting of a law for a one-off payment of 10,500 euros ($11,500) per eligible doping victim and expected several times more cases than the 194 beneficiaries of the first scheme in 2002.
"Today we take a step closer to our target of a renewal of the fund for GDR (East German) doping victims," German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere said in a statement.
"Given the difficult fate and bad health of many of the GDR doping victims speed is of essence," he said, adding he hoped to start paying out by the second half of the year.
In 2002 the German government paid out a similar amount to 194 athletes but not all those eligible came forward at the time, with many seeing the effects of doping on their health only much later.
The former East Germany's embrace of doping triggered a rapid improvement in results, with the country of 17 million almost doubling its gold medal tally from one Olympics to the next.
In the Olympic Games from 1972 to 1988, despite a boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games, East Germany won 384 medals. It was second in the medals table in three of the four Games in which it took part.
Today up to 2,000 former athletes are seriously ill, suffering from tumors, heart defects, infertility, depression, bulimia, and circulation and spinal problems. Some have died, others are waiting to see what health problems their children have inherited.
The launch of the fund to compensate the victims of past doping comes as athletics finds itself in the midst of one of the worst doping and corruption scandals in the sport's history.
($1 = 0.9114 euros)
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Toby Chopra)