David Owen ©ITG

As colleagues and friends will tell you, I always try to maintain a cheery disposition.

Yet whenever I survey the state of anti-doping, it makes me gloomy.

Two episodes over recent days have confirmed this tendency.

Indeed I wonder whether the time has finally come to write the obituary for the present anti-doping system and then go back to first principles with the aim of trying to map out a better approach.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) for one appears to an extent to have lost faith in the current system as a means for obtaining and safeguarding what it would regard as the right outcomes.

Since it was the IOC which essentially drove its implementation, this would be a development of some significance.

But how else to interpret the decision to exclude six-time Olympic champion Viktor Ahn, and possibly other athletes, from Pyeongchang 2018 without seemingly telling them, let alone the rest of us, specifically why?

Franz Kafka’s classic novel The Trial tells the story, as Wikipedia puts it, "of a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader".

Russia's triple Olympic short track speed skater gold medallist Victor Ahn has been banned from Pyeongchang 2018 without ever having failed a drugs test ©Getty Images
Russia's triple Olympic short track speed skater gold medallist Victor Ahn has been banned from Pyeongchang 2018 without ever having failed a drugs test ©Getty Images

To judge by his January 26 letter to IOC President Thomas Bach, there are clear parallels between this and the way short-track speed skater Ahn feels about his exclusion.

"Two weeks before the start of the Olympics I found out that the Olympic movement does not consider me an athlete who deserves to be a part of it without even providing an explanation," the South Korean-turned-Russian athlete wrote.

"It is outrageous that there is no concrete reason which explains my exclusion from the Olympics, and furthermore people now view me as an athlete who used doping."

Ahn, 32, also stated that he had "always complied with the anti-doping legislation".

We were still processing this latest example of transparency in sports administration when the second episode started to unfold.

Its first manifestation, as far as I was aware, was in tweets sent by journalist Hajo Seppelt on Monday (January 29).

"ARD world exclusive," the one I saw screamed in capital letters. "Doping sample bottles for Winter Olympic Games are manipulatable.

"ARD doping editorial team was able to open 'sealed' containers without trace.”

It turned out that a lengthy media release from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had dropped into my inbox at 11.20pm the previous evening announcing an investigation into a "potential integrity issue" with new-generation bottles.

WADA said it had been told by the Cologne laboratory that the bottles, introduced last September, "may potentially be susceptible to manual opening" upon freezing "of a sample".

It is fair to say the jury is still out on this one: the release said the manufacturer Berlinger had told WADA that in tests, it was "unable to replicate the issue when the security bottles were handled per the product’s instructions for use".

But Seppelt’s credibility is good and the IOC has put out a four-sentence statement, noting it is "very concerned".

It is at least reassuring to learn that new bottles had been introduced: as I have pointed out more than once, part of the fallout from the dreary Sochi saga was that the anti-doping police could not possibly, as far as I could see, be aware of how widely knowledge of how to prise open the old bottles might have been disseminated. 

But obviously, if this important element of the anti-doping apparatus does turn out to be "manipulatable", it would be potentially disastrous, not to say hugely embarrassing.

Hajo Seppelt's latest documentary appeared to expose the lack of security around the bottles being used for anti-doping tests at Pyeongchang 2018, leading to the IOC admitting they were
Hajo Seppelt's latest documentary appeared to expose the lack of security around the bottles being used for anti-doping tests at Pyeongchang 2018, leading to the IOC admitting they were "very concerned" ©ARD

Even if it were no more than a short-term issue, well, Pyeongchang 2018 is looming in the - very - short term.

So: doping - what is to be done? Discuss.

Personally, I think sooner or later there will have to be a fundamental rethink, although inadequate as the present system plainly is, I fully recognise that it may be fiendishly difficult to devise something that works much better.

What we have at the moment is a system that a) seems to soak up more and more money (although the multiplicity of cost centres makes it hard to work out an accurate overall figure, and an effective blueprint would probably cost a lot more); b) makes more and more impositions on athletes, whether clean or not; but c) is unable, as far as I am aware, to produce cast-iron evidence that all of this is leading to a reduced incidence of doping in sport.

Without such evidence, I suspect that the patience/goodwill of a) athletes and b) Government paymasters is likely to come under increasing strain.

Meanwhile, expensive lawyers working for wealthy clients, some of whose grievances will be well-justified, sports bodies/officials with complex motives, unscrupulous scientists and no doubt others will go on sprinkling sand in the gears, turning blind eyes and nudging the well-intentioned but probably over-ambitious and under-resourced system towards breaking-point.

As I wrote in 2015 in response to the Independent Commission report into allegations of widespread doping in Russia, we are, it seems to me "utterly dependent on a flimsy chain of human decency if we are to have even the faintest chance of largely clean competition".

I went on: "The links in this human chain, all the way from the athlete to the laboratories and various networks of authority, are prey to the gamut of emotions - greed, ambition, patriotism, envy, blind obedience - any one of which may intrude at any time to motivate a particular link not to do the right thing."

So, again, what do we need to do?

The number one priority, I feel, is to avoid creating a world in which children, teenagers and their advisers think that they have no chance of eventual elite success if they do not do or take things which are bad for them. Or, if we already live in such a world, to change it.

That points towards a more health-based, less performance-oriented, approach.

A regime entailing ever more tests and ever stiffer penalties seems to me a blind alley.