The Rodchenkov Affair – tell-all book reveals murky depths of Russian sports doping

“How I Brought Down Putin’s Secret Doping Empire”

The book revealed some astounding levels of dishonesty and cloak and dagger shenanigans from sportspeople and scientists, all in the name of glory and greed.

Author – Dr Grigory Rodchenkov

While The Rodchenkov Affair provides an interesting insight into the scandal of systematic doping in Russian (and other countries’) athletics that rocked the sports world, the sting is softened somewhat by doubts about the credibility of the star witness – Rodchenkov himself.

There’s no doubting the intelligence and credentials of the author in this racy, tell-all book, but one grows irritated at the hypocrisy of Grigory Rodchenkov, and the scientist’s failure to accept responsibility for his fraud, criminality and subterfuge that assisted Russia in making a fool of the athletics world.

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One of the chief difficulties I had with this book was the trust deficit between the author and the reader. Rodchenkov glibly announces a litany of abuses and cases of cheating and fraud he was involved in, often without even bothering to justify himself. It if was in his self-interest, then he was definitely interested.

He asks the reader to understand how hard life was in the 80s in Moscow and the tenuous political dynamics at play, and details how he purchased drugs to sell on to keep his family comfortable and himself, cheat in athletics. He explains how he helped the Russian authorities in their doping programme for years, but when it suited him, he jumped ship to the other side to blow the whistle and rat out his colleagues.

You could say the whole point of the book is to tell the truth, warts and all, but the question gnaws away at the back of your mind… which truth, and is Rodchenkov having us on again? He details what happens but there’s not much regret expressed or a “mea culpa”.

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One of the reasons I asked to review this book was because I was curious to explore the real depths of the scandal, as yet another example of the lows humanity will sink to to achieve nefarious ends – and not just the Russians. In this, the book didn’t disappoint and revealed some astounding levels of dishonesty and cloak and dagger shenanigans from sportspeople and scientists, all in the name of glory and greed.

Samples were swopped, positives reported as negatives, steroids were bought and sold on to bolster meagre incomes. Picture: File/Unsplash/Louis Reed

Also interesting was Rodchenkov’s perspective of the time in Russia when communism was failing and Gorbachev was struggling to implement his move towards social democracy through reforms based on perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness).

The Rodchenkov Affair shortlisted for sports book of the year award

On the whole The Rodchenkov Affair is a page-turner that’s interesting for anyone fascinated by foreign affairs, sport and the Olympics, but I struggled to click with the attitude and approach of the writer.

**Publisher: Penguin/Random House. ISBN number: 9780753553336

Book review by Garth Johnstone


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