Duncan Mackay ©ITG

A proposal to rewrite athletics' history books by overhauling the record lists and eliminating any doping doubts surrounding performances caused a predictable storm.

It is unfortunate the debate has been hijacked by a group of British athletes who have attacked the decision. 

I don't blame Paula Radcliffe, Jonathan Edwards and Colin Jackson for being so upset by the plan. If it were me and my life's work was about to be wiped out, I would be very upset too and doing everything I could to block it.

I believe, though, the idea proposed by the European Athletics' Records Credibility Project Team, led by Pierce O'Callaghan, deserves greater scrutiny. 

The new plan "calls for higher technical standards, increased doping control measures and new personal integrity requirements for record holders". The idea is to make records as credible as possible, at a time when the public are increasingly cynical about any outstanding performance.

The proposal to reset records set pre-2005 takes out some of the best known marks in the books. These include Radcliffe's record of 2 hours 15min 25sec for the marathon and Edwards' triple jump performance of 18.29 metres. I was there for both world records and they remain among the highlights of events I have covered. 

Radcliffe has called the idea "cowardly". It is many things, but definitely not that. It is bold and innovative, I believe. 

In fact, it is just the kind of radical solution you could have imagined Paula Radcliffe circa 2001 - when she held up her famous banner "EPO CHEATS OUT" at the World Championships in Edmonton - would have backed. 

What would the Paula Radcliffe of 2001 have thought about proposals to reset world records? ©Getty Images
What would the Paula Radcliffe of 2001 have thought about proposals to reset world records? ©Getty Images

Whether it is the right solution, I do not know. I have mixed views about it. On the one hand, I understand the need to wipe out the more suspicious world records, like Marita Koch's 400m performance of 47.60sec set in 1985 or Florence Griffith Joyner's 100m and 200m marks of 10.49 and 21.34 respectively, which are due to celebrate their 30th anniversary next year.

I can also understand the argument that it is unfair to tar every athlete who has set a world record with the same brush as Koch and Flo Jo.

I have had some interesting debates on Twitter this week about the subject, including with Britain's Katharine Merry, an Olympic 400m bronze medallist at Sydney 2000. She is very much in the camp that does not believe athletes like Radcliffe, Edwards and Jackson should lose their records. Merry, though, does not feel so benevolent towards other (foreign) athletes.

"Start with removing the records every1 knows are dodgey..nail them down legally..kick them out..the new proposal reasoning is unfair..," she wrote on her Twitter page. 

When I challenged her to define how you would know a record was "dodgey", she answered: "If you look hard enough you kind find anything... take different angles, different approaches .."

That is to ignore a basic tenet of law in most countries that there needs to be some evidence to base a judgement on. Only the East Germans wrote everything down about their doping regimes for it to be discovered decades later. Even with Flo Jo, for all the doubts about her performances, there is no documentary evidence existing to justify stripping her of her record for doping. 

My Twitter conversation with Merry ended abruptly when I asked if the criteria she would use for retrospectively stripping athletes of records would include if they later failed a drugs tests in their careers. 

No surprise there. At the time of her Olympic medal-winning performance, Merry was being coached by Linford Christie, who was in the middle of a two-year suspension having tested positive for anabolic steroids the previous year. In the build-up to Sydney 2000, he was banned by the New South Wales Government from using state-owned training facilities in Sydney. 

There are widespread suspicions about the performances of America's Florence Griffith Joyner, who set world records in the 100 and 200 metres in 1988, but no documentary evidence to prove anything ©Getty Images
There are widespread suspicions about the performances of America's Florence Griffith Joyner, who set world records in the 100 and 200 metres in 1988, but no documentary evidence to prove anything ©Getty Images

Merry's former British team-mate Denise Lewis was another opposed to European Athletics' proposal. "It's ridiculous, it won't stop people who want to cheat. Life bans for coaches & athletes might," she wrote on her Twitter page. 

This is the same Denise Lewis who, when she returned to the sport after her Olympic gold medal in the heptathlon at Sydney 2000 following a period of injury, chose as her coach Dr Ekkart Arbeit. She worked with him even though there was considerable evidence in captured Stasi files to prove Arbeit had administered anabolic steroids to generations of East German athletes.

Arbeit had been unmasked by Professor Werner Franke, who discovered his name in the files found following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Arbeit was the head coach of the East German athletics team at the time and had been involved in shaping the doping policy with doctors and state officials since 1968. He was one of the decision-makers in who should get doped, when they should start, how much they used and for how long. His work with Koch helped her set her world record.

Germany's Olympic discus gold medallist Robert Harting is another strident anti-doping campaigner who finds no contradiction that, for a large part of his career, he was coached by Werner Goldmann.

Goldmann was one of six former East German coaches who signed a letter admitting their part in systematic state doping. After Harting was elevated to status of national hero in Germany following his gold medal at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Goldmann was asked about his period in East Germany. He replied:  "I have no desire and no need to speak about the past."

There is no suggestion that either Merry, Lewis or Harting have ever done anything wrong. Indeed, they have always been at the forefront of the fight against anti-doping. But the fight they all lead for greater punishments against those connected with doping never seems to extend to anyone they are personally involved with. 

The famous omertà that exists in cycling may not be as strong in athletics but there remains a definite reluctance to publicly confront the issue of doping and how it is undermining faith in the sport. 

At a series of press conferences held before last month's London Marathon, I expected doping to be at the forefront of the journalists' minds following the news a few weeks earlier that last year's winner and Olympic gold medallist Jemima Sumgong had tested positive for erythropoietin. I was disappointed at the lack of interest they appeared to have in the scandal.

The positive drugs test for EPO of Kenya's Olympic marathon champion Jemima Sumgong means it is hard to believe that doping does not remain a major problem in athletics ©Getty Images
The positive drugs test for EPO of Kenya's Olympic marathon champion Jemima Sumgong means it is hard to believe that doping does not remain a major problem in athletics ©Getty Images

Most of them seemed more interested quizzing Sumgong's Kenyan team-mates about split times and the farmyard animals they breed than potentially one of the major doping crisis' in the sport's history. The temperature in the room in the Tower Hotel dropped by several degrees among the running writers, race directors, coaches and agents when I asked Mary Keitany her views on doping in her home country.

A few days later Keitany won the race and broke Radcliffe's 12-year-old women's only world record with a time of 2:17:42. There were plenty of celebrations and, if the new European Athletics criteria is adopted, it will replace Radcliffe's all-time mark in the record books. 

Does that mean we have total confidence in the performance? History would suggest we would be wise not to get too carried away yet. 

That, I suppose, is one of the problems with these new proposals. We remain a long way from being in a golden era of drug-free sport. Until we can be certain we have driven all the cheats out of athletics and blocked any route back for them, we are just fiddling at the edges of the problem. 

At least, though, these proposals have sparked the debate. If it helps the sport face its drugs problem then it will have been worth it.