Liam Morgan ©ITG

Next week in Lausanne, the great and the good from the anti-doping movement will gather for yet another key meeting billed as crucial in fighting an issue which has ripped global sport to its core.

The annual World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) symposium is open to pretty much anybody and everybody. Athletes, Government representatives, governing bodies; you name it, they will all be in the Olympic Capital to offer their two cents' worth from Wednesday to Friday (March 21 to March 23).

Participants will engage in various seminars and sessions under the umbrella theme of "shaping the future of clean sport" - a future which continues to look bleak and fraught with difficulties in the current landscape.

It seems that almost every aspect of the anti-doping system as we know it is at breaking point.

Not only does the Russian doping scandal still linger over world sport like a dark, ominous cloud - as has been the case for what feels like an eternity - but now we have serious questions over the integrity of the sample collection process, claims of fake testers doing the rounds in Kenya and a complete lack of trust from athletes in the entire anti-doping mechanism.

This time last week, Swiss manufacturers Berlinger announced they will withdraw from the doping control business in the "medium term" after the reporting of more problems with their sample collection bottles.

An investigation was launched by WADA in January, just a few weeks before the opening of the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, following claims that the new-generation BEREG-KIT Geneva security bottles, made by Berlinger, could potentially be opened, especially when frozen.

German journalist Hajo Seppelt claimed in another hard-hitting documentary on ARD that they had been able to open sealed containers "without trace", prompting further concerns over the possibility of manipulation and fears the system is susceptible to a repeat of the Russian situation.

Berlinger  announced they will withdraw from the doping control business in the
Berlinger announced they will withdraw from the doping control business in the "medium term" after the reporting of more problems with their sample collection bottles ©Getty Images

Fundamentally, the company were unable to guarantee their bottles would stand up to any such manipulation, a hugely damning example of the state anti-doping finds itself in at the moment.

Berlinger admitted as much in a statement, which began with the phrase "to avoid jeopardising current anti-doping activities…"

This strikes to the very centre of the anti-doping process and means we cannot even have full confidence in that part of the operation, despite it being one of the most basic elements.

"The quality of anti-doping equipment used cannot be compromised," WADA vice-president Linda Helleland said recently. "It's as simple as that and this must be fixed immediately."

In another troubling development, it was then revealed "imposters" were posing as doping control officers in Kenya - a nation whose record in this particular area is not exactly positive - following complaints from a number of athletes.

Why? That is anyone's guess. Presumably for some sort of financial gain, but even the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK) were unsure as to their motive.

"We are reliably informed that the individuals are using the sample collection process as a conduit for reasons yet to be established," a statement from ADAK chief executive Japhter Rugut read.

North Korean ice hockey player Un Hyang Kim, right, was secretly cleared after testing positive for a banned substance at Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images
North Korean ice hockey player Un Hyang Kim, right, was secretly cleared after testing positive for a banned substance at Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images

Add to that the recent confusion over North Korean ice player Un Hyang Kim being secretly cleared after testing positive for a banned substance at Pyeongchang 2018, coupled with the ongoing in-fighting between stakeholders within the movement, and it is not difficult to see why the system is at breaking point.

Confusion has been an underlying theme in the anti-doping world, exacerbated by the avalanche of acronyms of groups involved in some way or another which was excellently-outlined by my colleague Nick Butler in one of his columns earlier this month, leading to some officials quite simply not knowing how it all works.

A case in point came when the International Olympic Committee (IOC), particularly its Presidential spokesperson Mark Adams, got in a muddle when they claimed they were entirely independent of the anti-doping process at Pyeongchang 2018 only before it was pointed out that was not exactly the case.

They eventually came back and said the IOC involvement was purely procedural, but doubt still remained over whether this was the case in reality - another common theme throughout this entire saga.

It is little wonder, then, that the outspoken Helleland, who provides a rare example of a high-ranking sports official not being afraid of ruffling one or two feathers, has called for an "independent" review into the whole mess.

The main bugbear for the Norwegian is the impact it has had on the clean athletes, whose frustrations with the system and those in charge of it are now "getting closer to indifference", according to the former Sports Minister.

The exasperation from athletes largely stems from the way the Russian doping scandal was dealt with, culminating in the frankly ridiculous scenario whereby the decision on the extent of the country's participation as part of a neutral team at Pyeongchang 2018 was made mere hours before the curtain for the event was officially raised at the Opening Ceremony.

Helleland is among those advocating for more input and participation from athletes in anti-doping discussions, a topic which is due to be the focal point of a WADA Global Athlete Forum in Calgary in June.

A statement announcing the Canadian city as the host of the event earlier this week promised it would give athletes an "opportunity to express how they believe their rights should be protected today and in the future" amid the aforementioned frustrations expressed by competitors.

WADA vice-president Linda Helleland has been among those to call for a review and reform of the anti-doping system ©Facebook
WADA vice-president Linda Helleland has been among those to call for a review and reform of the anti-doping system ©Facebook

The current state of affairs is also the topic of a new book, due to be released in the middle of next month.

Written by Professors Paul Dimeo of the University of Stirling and Verner Møller of the University of Aarhus, the book aims to demonstrate the principle reasons why sport has seemingly reached its nadir.

Entitled The Anti-Doping Crisis in Sport: Causes, Consequences, Solutions, it outlines six focal points concerning how the situation has become a full-blown crisis, one of which cites "abuse of athletes through excessive surveillance and marginalisation from decision-making".

Holding the symposium, coupled with Helleland’s calls for a review - echoed by plenty of others in recent years - and the Global Athlete Forum, is all well and good and should be commended.

It provides a much-needed chance to thrash out a way forward for a movement which is in desperate need of repair.

But concrete actions, rather than measures, reviews and recommendations, are what is truly needed to restore trust in a system corrupted by the Russian scandal.

As the authors of the book explained in a recent piece with website VeloNews: "The unavoidable conclusion is that a system that fails to deliver on its own ambitions needs some help in redirecting its ideas, practices, and relationships such that the very people upon whom sport depends - athletes - are treated like normal human beings: protected, listened to and respected."