Liam Morgan ©ITG

After all the talk on Russia and the "will-they won’t-they" debate as Pyeongchang 2018 draws ever closer, yesterday we heard from the man at the very heart of the scandal.

Grigory Rodchenkov, the mastermind of Russia’s illicit doping regime, had his byline on an op-ed piece in the New York Times, the newspaper which he decided to bare all to in May 2016.

That interview, detailing the alleged lengths the country went to in order to achieve sporting glory on the international stage, was the catalyst for an investigation that still dominates the headlines more than a year on.

Yesterday, he took to the same publication to highlight his disenchantment at the way the situation is progressing and the direction the International Olympic Committee (IOC) appear to be taking, effectively, a path towards letting Russian athletes compete at Pyeongchang 2018.

Rodchenkov’s latest piece was not as revealing as the previous article but was no less interesting.

The former head of the Moscow Laboratory, currently in a witness protection programme after he left his family at home in Russia and fled to the United States following his damning revelations, or someone on his behalf, felt the need to speak out following a period in which further doubts have been cast on his initial state-sponsored doping claims.

In the op-ed, Rodchenkov claimed he has seen reports which suggest the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) are "trying to find a way to walk away from the findings of its own independent investigator, who identified over 1,000 Russian athletes at the Sochi Games and in other competitions who might have used performance-enhancing drugs".

Grigory Rodchenkov has once again tried to pin the blame on Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, left, for the doping scandal in Russia which has led to calls for them to be banned from Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images
Grigory Rodchenkov has once again tried to pin the blame on Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, left, for the doping scandal in Russia which has led to calls for them to be banned from Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images

Rodchenkov also staunchly defended his initial allegations, insisting the evidence he provided was "indisputable", and pinned the blame firmly on former Sports Minister and now Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko.

"Let me be clear: Mr. Mutko knew about, and was critical to the success of, Russia’s doping programme," Rodchenkov wrote.

"The very fact that Russia is pursuing criminal charges against me - and only me - for misusing my position tells one everything they need to know: This is a witch hunt, and I am the witch."

Even more scary is the line slightly further down, where Rodchenkov claimed he was told by a friend in the Russian Government that they were arranging his "suicide". Essentially, the Government, he claimed, were preparing for how to make him disappear for good.

Regardless of what you might think about Rodchenkov’s credibility and his personality - it is widely known he is not the most stable of individuals - the Russian official has sacrificed so much to enlighten the world to the corruption going on in his native country, which he himself was a part of.

After he blew the whistle to the New York Times, he feared correctly his life would never be the same again.

He knew he would be persona non-grata in Russia. He knew what it all entailed and was aware of, as he writes, the "severe consequences" he might be subjected to.

"My comrade and friend, Nikita Kamayev, the longtime director of Russia’s antidoping agency, RUSADA, found out the hard way: A healthy man in the prime of life, he had a fatal 'heart attack' - Russia’s favored way to eliminate enemies - after the Kremlin learned he was writing a book about the doping programme," Rodchenkov said.

Surely, with that in mind, his testimony and his revelations should be given some credence?

Grigory Rodchenkov, left, stuck to his guns in an op-ed piece in the New York Times ©Netflix
Grigory Rodchenkov, left, stuck to his guns in an op-ed piece in the New York Times ©Netflix

In Russia, they have continually painted Rodchenkov as the mad scientist who went out on a limb to organise this sample-swapping, urine-tainting doping system that elevated Russian athlete after Russian athlete to stardom at the Olympic Games and other major sporting events.

From Russia’s point of view, these are uncorroborated allegations from one man.

It is, as it has been all along, his word against theirs.

Yet still Rodchenkov persists with his rhetoric, firmly in the belief that everything he is saying is true and happened under his watch.

Even the most hardened of souls would feel at least a tinge of sympathy towards Rodchenkov. Yes, no-one forced him to blow the whistle in such a cataclysmic manner but the fact he did shows strength and courage that would not go amiss among some of the international organisations which govern worldwide sport.

Rodchenkov has also shown remorse, although one wonders if that is largely because of the bleak situation he finds himself in. This is not exactly forthcoming from the Russian side.

You also cannot blame Rodchenkov for wanting to get his opinion across at a time where the uncertainty over the level of Russian participation at Pyeongchang 2018 hovers over sport like an ominous cloud, much like it did before last year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The key difference between now and prior to Rio 2016 is that senior officials at WADA seem to be in line with their counterparts over at the IOC.

After a group of National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs) called for a blanket ban on Russian athletes at Pyeongchang 2018, WADA President Sir Craig Reedie and IOC members lined up to attack their statement in a show of unity rarely seen between the two entities in recent years.

What resulted was a clear view that Russia will escape complete exclusion from February’s Games and could compete under their own flag, wearing their own colours and listening to their own national anthem.

All is not as it seems, however, particularly for WADA, whose united front prior to Rio 2016 has dissipated somewhat in recent months.

WADA President Sir Craig Reedie criticised a group of NADOs during the IOC Session in Lima last week for calling for a blanket ban on Russian athletes at Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images
WADA President Sir Craig Reedie criticised a group of NADOs during the IOC Session in Lima last week for calling for a blanket ban on Russian athletes at Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images

On one side is the NADOs, who feel that there should not be a single Russian competitor in Pyeongchang. On the other is Sir Craig and director general Olivier Niggli, openly critical of the NADOs' statement during the IOC Session in Lima last week.

Now it has emerged that public authority representatives, including Government ministers, will raise considerable concerns over what they claim was an outburst from the WADA President in the Peruvian capital when the Executive Committee convenes for a crunch meeting in Paris tomorrow.

While it is not yet clear whether they support the call from the NADOs or not, their decision to voice their opposition to the criticism from the top brass within WADA shows that divisions within the anti-doping movement remain.

Whether these will be resolved before Pyeongchang 2018 remains to be seen. 

But one thing is for sure - Russia's chances of competing at the Olympics are going right to the wire. 

Again.