Nick Butler

First, we were shocked by the conflict between SportAccord and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in April. 

That was followed by a summer of scandal involving world football's governing body, FIFA, which flickered and intensified into an autumn of anguish.

But even this pales into insignificance in comparison with today’s latest revelations to emerge on the banks of Lake Geneva, this time concerning Russian doping, where a "state-supported" doping programme has reportedly been orchestrated by a coalition of sport, anti-doping and Government-affiliated bodies, all held together by the iron fist of the FSB secret police, successors to the feared KGB. 

Journalists who had rushed to book early morning flights to attend today's long awaited unveiling of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Independent Commission Report were expecting something big, something damning, but not on this scale, going almost beyond sport to expose Russian corruption on a level which most had thought likely, but few ever expected to see concrete evidence for.

Gasps of shock were erupting around the press room as battle-weary journalists who regard themselves as veterans of skulduggery took in some of the worst parts. Direct threats to doping control officers, as well to their family members; the alleged destruction of more than 1,400 samples rather than show them to the WADA inspectors, and the existence of a second, “secret” laboratory in Moscow where undercover tests were carried out.

Just three of hundreds of incredible snippets contained within the pages of the 323-page report.  

The findings of the three-man WADA Independent Commission, chaired by Richard Pound, and what is uncovered in Russia has shocked the world
The findings of the three-man WADA Independent Commission, chaired by Richard Pound, and what is uncovered in Russia has shocked the world ©Getty Images

Huge credit for the thoroughness of a report which pulled no punches must go to the chair of the three-man WADA Panel, Richard Pound, the Canadian lawyer who answered questions candidly for almost 90 minutes this afternoon.

My first dealings with Pound came at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Sessions in Buenos Aires and Sochi in 2013 and 2014 respectively, when on both occasions he unsuccessfully stood to regain his place on the IOC's rulng Executive Board, losing out to United States’ Anita DeFrantz and then Turkey’s Uğur Erdener.

Although a former two-time IOC vice-president in the 1980s and 1990s, it was widely believed he was considered the “wrong sort” of candidate by the powers-that-be in these elections, contributing to his downfall. 

But the IOC’s loss has been the anti-doping world’s gain, and I was reminded of a rather crass but useful quote attributed to former US President Lyndon B. Johnson: “It's better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

By being left outside, confined to the backbench periphery of the Olympic Movement, Pound has been able to roam untroubled and unchecked.

Because while press releases have and undoubtedly will come out supporting his Commission’s findings, claiming that “the war against doping is being won”, the report’s findings pose the biggest challenge to sports administration as we know it yet.

Much of the focus so far has been on the challenges now facing new International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Sebastian Coe.

Vladimir Putin (right) and Thomas Bach pictured together before the Opening Ceremony of last year's Winter Olympics, where it is claimed  the FSB carried out regular surveillance of the laboratory during the Games
Vladimir Putin and Thomas Bach pictured together before the Opening Ceremony of last year's Winter Olympics, where it is claimed the FSB carried out regular surveillance of the laboratory during the Games ©Getty Images

It is Pound’s fellow lawyer, the IOC President Thomas Bach, however, who is facing rising tides due to how close he has aligned himself with Russia and its President Vladimir Putin during his time in office.

Barely a month goes by, it seems, when the duo do not meet to share a smiling pose, hands clasped together in apparent delight, basking in the success of a Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in which the entire results of the Russian team must now be called into question.

It is something which we highlight a lot in these columns, but with every new scandal which erupts, the limitations of Bach's much fawned-over Agenda 2020 reform process in made more and more clear. In August, I described it as a rhetorical device to give the impression of change, yet now I am more inclined to dismiss it as a defence mechanism so as to maintain the status-quo. 

As for the IAAF, Coe's remarks accusing the media of “declaring war” on his sport, delivered in response to the Sunday Times claiming leaked blood test results from 5,000 athletes revealed an "extraordinary extent of cheating", appear even more ill-judged than when they first appeared in August. The British Lord now faces the biggest challenge of his career to sort out the mess he has inherited. 

Both the IOC and IAAF will be fully expected to help enforce the WADA plea for Russian athletes to be banned from competition until significant improvements are made. This must not appear weak in the face of what is sure to be heavy pressure from the Kremlin. 

Yet, as Pound admitted himself, any ban will, in all likelihood, be lifted within a matter of months rather than years, meaning the risk of the team being banned from next year’s Olympic Games appears slim.

But in the few hours since the report was released, Russians from Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko down have denied any wrongdoing and blamed WADA for a supposedly unfair investigation.

Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary of Putin himself, has said it is nothing to do with the Kremlin. Strange that, when Putin was so happy to associate himself with any Russian success at Sochi 2014. 

That is hardly the quick immediate action to learn from their failings and clean up the sport that Pound recommended.

The validity of Russian performances at the Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi must now be questioned ©Getty Images
The validity of Russian performances at Sochi 2014 must now be questioned ©Getty Images

In a normal world, the position of Mutko, also a member of the FIFA Executive Committee and the man in charge of the Organising Committee for the 2018 World Cup, should be under threat. But Russia is not a normal world, and it depends now whether Putin, like all good gang-leaders, decides to reward loyalty or make Mutko a scapegoat to help protect himself.

Pound was also right to congratulate the media - that seldom praised but often criticised bunch - and the painstaking investigations of the ARD documentary team led by Hajo Seppelt for opening the case.

Like virtually all major sporting scandals, this one arose due to media intrusion rather than an internal investigation.

As Pound pointed out, while Russia and athletics was the focus of his inquiry, problems go a lot deeper and we must regard all sporting performances with greater suspicion than ever.

I was struck by a tweet this evening, pointing out how Britain must be praised for managing to finish ahead of Russia at London 2012, despite everything that was now clearly going on.

On the one hand, this was a great performance by the host nation, and an advert for the merits of clean sport over cheaters. On the other, a cynic would now say, how do we know the performances of the British team were clean?

That is the sad situation where sport finds itself today.