From the editors

Whisky’s role in Russia’s doping scandal

  • We live in an age when every element of a brand’s image is constantly and painstakingly controlled, fine-tuned; this press release picked apart by an in-house committee of sceptics, that new label endlessly trialled in focus groups.

    Each potential association or partnership is carefully vetted – will this project chime with our target consumer? Does that celebrity share our brand’s values and reinforce its core strengths?

    But you can’t control everything. Take the case of the Russian doping scandal and Chivas Regal.

    In a jaw-dropping New York Times article last week, former Russian anti-doping chief Grigory Rodchenkov lays bare the scale and sophistication of that country’s alleged doping programme, especially in the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

    Years of planning, cloak-and-dagger stuff involving the FSB (successor to the KGB), swapping urine samples via a hole in the wall to ensure drugs cheats escaped detection. Russia finished top of the medals table. No athlete was caught.

    Since named as the lynchpin in Russia’s allegedly state-sponsored doping programme, Rodchenkov was forced to resign and fled to Los Angeles (while two of his former colleagues died suddenly shortly afterwards in Russia).

    Flags at the Sochi Winter Olympics

    Head start: Did Russia's athletes use drugs (and Chivas Regal) at the Sochi Winter Olympics? (Photo:

    The intricacies of the Russian programme, he claims, took many years to perfect, particularly his favoured cocktail of performance-enhancing substances, which involved three anabolic steroids – metenolone, trenbolone and oxandrolone – designed to aid recovery and maintain peak performance.

    But it’s the method of delivery that interests us: to accelerate the absorption of the substances and to reduce the window within which detection was possible, Rodchenkov dissolved the drugs in alcohol to a precise recipe – 1mg of steroid cocktail per 1ml of alcohol.

    Given that this is Russia, you might have thought a patriotic shot of vodka would do the trick, but no… Chivas Regal Scotch whisky for the male athletes; Martini vermouth for the women. Discerning choices perhaps, but listen carefully and you can hear the heads of the respective brand managers hitting their desks.

    Then again, come to think of it – a dram for the men and a nice glass of Martini for the ladies? I’m not sure what’s most shocking here – the allegations of a massive doping programme and cover-up… or the casually sexist way in which it was perpetrated.

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