Mike Rowbottom

Twitter this morning features a video clip showing Chelsea’s French international midfielder N’Golo Kanté methodically taking up and collecting training poles at the end of a session.

Now this international star is paid nearly £300,000 ($410,000/€350,000) a week and probably doesn’t need to concern himself with such menial duties. But.

"The standards you walk past are the standards you accept," says player pathway coach Andrew Brownhill, who has posted the TikTok footage.

"N’Golo Kanté showing that no matter how good you become, you can still clear your training equipment away."

Kanté - truly a holding midfielder par excellence. Why would he bother with this action? Presumably because he saw it as part of the task in hand. As it were.

At any level of sport - and maybe even beyond sport - it is a calming and strangely powerful feeling when you do a thing correctly. Comme il faut.

Back in the days when I used to train midweek with Bishop’s Stortford Swifts FC - legends in their own back yard - the lights alongside the clubhouse were barely bright enough to discern the far side of the pitch, around which we would, at some point, do circuits.

Our coach advised us, as we set off on our clockwise journey into the Silver Leys hinterland, not to cut the corners. "Cheat, and you cheat yourself," he would say.

It wasn’t a big thing. Like taking or not taking training poles back in. But it felt like the right thing. And it felt good.

Such apparently small adjustments or corrections are part of a virtuous continuum in which sits the vast phenomenon of sportsmanship.

Often this is instinctive. One example. John Landy, running in the 1956 Australian National Athletics Championships prior to the Melbourne Olympics, sees the leader, Ron Clarke, then junior world mile record-holder, fall during the third lap after having his heels clipped.

For all the potential importance of the race in terms of qualification for the home Olympics, Landy, by then world mile record holder, stopped and helped Clarke to his feet before closing the gap to the leaders and winning the race.

The National Centre for History and Education in Australia said that "[i]t was a spontaneous gesture of sportsmanship and it has never been forgotten." A sculpture of that moment in sport was commissioned and now stands within Melbourne’s Olympic Park.

There are all kinds of categories of action that are the right thing to do. Some small - some huge, testing, demanding.

Last week I spoke to Gunter Younger, director of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Intelligence and Investigations (I&I) department. Our conversation, prompted by the three reports released by them in the space of the past month, turned to whistleblowers - although WADA prefer not to use that term nowadays.

"We don’t call them whistleblowers any more because in some countries it has a bad meaning," Younger, who used to head the Bavarian Police cybercrime department and was originally seconded in 2015 to the three-person Independent Commission that, on WADA’s behalf, eventually exposed widespread doping in Russian athletics.

"We call them confidential sources.

"But there are different kinds of whistleblowers put into one pot and sometimes arguments about the get mixed up."

Setting aside the malicious cases - "I leave them out because usually they are not plausible, they provide you with false information" - Younger identified four main categories of confidential sources.

"There is one group that wants substantial assistance," he said. "So they come, they have done an anti-doping rule violation and they would like to have a substantial assistance – a reduction of their ban in exchange for information.

Yulia and Vitaly Stepanov turned whistleblowers when they helped WADA during their investigation into Russian doping ©CBS
Yulia and Vitaly Stepanov turned whistleblowers when they helped WADA during their investigation into Russian doping ©CBS

"So this is where they put everything on the table and provide all the evidence they have and then in return they want substantial assistance.

"Then there is another group, in this case those who want incentives – perhaps money, or perhaps getting a job. They are not interested in substantial assistance - perhaps they are not athletes.

"The third group pursue their own purpose. Meaning, perhaps, getting rid of a competitor. Let’s say one is not happy with the team - they think that someone in the team is doping, so they pursue their own purpose.

"All these three were the categories I came across all through my law enforcement life. But the fourth one is quite astounding and for me quite surprising.

"There are a lot of whistleblowers out there who want a clean sport. They don’t do it for incentives, they don’t do it for substantial assistance. They really do it, because they say: ‘I believe in clean sport and I want a clean sport.’

"The first ones I worked with were Yulia and Vitaly Stepanov in connection with the Russian doping report. They really did it for sport. That is the nicest one to work with because they really believe what they want to do."