David Owen

He leaves on a high note. Proceedings in Lausanne on Monday, under the full glare of the global media spotlight, on the whole displayed the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at its best.

A group of serious-minded people, trying, in spite of what some might think, to do the right thing, adopting a sensible, but not uncourageous decision and then exposing themselves to a grilling, to which they responded in a direct, well-informed, but also respectful way.

Sir Craig Reedie, who steps down at the end of this month after six years in the presidential hot-seat, can take much satisfaction from this final act of his tumultuous term.

The mood of measured, competent determination was a far cry from the chaos and animosity of the countdown to Rio.

It may well be that the most significant attainment of the 78-year-old Scot's stretch in sport's impossible job will lie in the team of highly motivated specialists assembled under his stewardship.

We are still a long way from the end of the mind-boggling and deeply depressing Russian doping crisis that has dominated five of his six years in office.

As Sir Craig put it cautiously in the course of a final, exclusive interview before he rides off into the sunset: "With a bit of luck, we have moved that bit closer to closure."

It's certainly been a roller-coaster journey for WADA President Sir Craig Reedie
It's certainly been a roller-coaster journey for WADA President Sir Craig Reedie

But if meaningful punishment is now able to be exacted on Russia over what the Schmid Report described as "the unprecedented nature of the cheating scheme", with the help of a new International Standard for Code Compliance by Signatories dating from April 2018, it will be in large part because of the shrewd and, in some respects, Herculean labours of lieutenants such as Gunter Younger, the investigations expert, Jonathan Taylor, the legal brains, and Olivier Niggli, the low-profile director general who helped knit everything together.

Knowing when and how to delegate is an important, usually underrated facet of leadership - and one far too little practised in the paranoid, ego-heavy universe of international sport.

While I personally think Sir Craig initially overestimated the extent to which other officials with influence in the politically sensitive world of elite performance would always act with the sense of honour that has been a hallmark of his own long career, once disillusioned, he manifested both the self-knowledge to recognise he did not have all the answers, and the humility and good sense to secure the services of top practitioners in the fields required.  

He has also drawn on deep reserves of tenacity, which he possesses in abundance, even if this is sometimes underappreciated owing to his unfailingly gentlemanly demeanour.

It looks increasingly unlikely that what one might term "full justice" will be able to be delivered: Younger acknowledged on Monday that "a majority" of the raw data needed to facilitate this "have been deleted since 2016".

But WADA is confident that it will be able to keep the 145 individuals within its target group of "most suspicious athletes" out of future Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Though we do not know who they are, it is estimated that about one-third of them remain active.

When I asked Sir Craig in our interview if he could retire satisfied, bearing in mind he has been involved with WADA since its inception, his answer initially reflects the huge administrative burden of attempting to build a harmonised global system in any sphere.

"Harmonisation of sanctions, World Anti-Doping Codes, hugely improved legislation then leading onto intelligence and investigations: we have changed that side of world sport," he asserts.

"As far as Russia is concerned... in many ways that has poisoned relationships and caused huge problems for sport.

"In my view we have dealt with it responsibly and well - I am comfortable with the balanced decision which Jonathan [Taylor] put together I think very cleverly.

"I think that is about right.

Gunter Younger has been one of Sir Craig's trusty lieutenants ©Getty Images
Gunter Younger has been one of Sir Craig's trusty lieutenants ©Getty Images

"Russian officials when they read this must think, 'Was this the right thing to do?'

"Because they are damaging young people in their own country."

Does he think sport is cleaner than when he assumed the Presidency in 2014?

"Yes, my gut feeling is that it is cleaner," he replied.

"Certainly it is cleaner in Russia because we rebuilt one of the biggest anti-doping agencies in the world...

"We are more aware of how cheats think - we are more aware of the science that they try to benefit from.

"We are more aware of the information that we need to give athletes, so across the board I think we are better than we were.

"That having been said, the world is not totally clean."

So, does WADA still need more money?

"Oh, for sure.

"The big hole in our budget is now research.

"With very little money, we spent $6 million (£4.5 million/€5.4 million) on research.

"Now with a lot more money we spend $2 million (£1.5 million/€1.8 million).

"So [International Olympic Committee President] Thomas Bach's additional $2.5 million (£1.9 million/€2.25 million) [first offered last month in Katowice], if we can match it, would give us a quick $5 million (£3.8 million/€4.5 million) more.

"That is good news."

And with that, the man who, as Bach also acknowledged in Katowice, "had to lead WADA through some of the most difficult periods of the organisation" was gone.

He leaves behind a body that has wised-up to the strength of the forces lined up against it, and which may just be starting to edge clear of the Russia-shaped cloud that has enveloped it for so long.