Michael Pavitt

Congratulations to Russia on achieving a world record in being the fastest to fail a New Year, new me pledge.

A second after midnight struck on January 1, the deadline passed for experts from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to receive data from the Moscow Laboratory.

Having produced a response which bordered on "the dog ate my homework" in claiming the WADA team's equipment needed to be certified under Russian law, the country succeeded yet again in making a mockery of the anti-doping system.

I have read with interest the many responses to the latest blow to anti-doping. Most have seen WADA take on the role of a punchbag after being taken for a ride by Russia again. It is difficult to argue with the criticism that has come the way of WADA's leadership.

Sir Craig Reedie's "100 per cent guarantee" the data would be handed over has come back to haunt him. Let us be honest, if you are Russian and wanted to hit back at WADA for a couple of years of perceived inconvenience, that guarantee was an open invitation to drag your feet and watch the organisation take the heat when you miss the deadline.

Similarly, WADA director general Olivier Niggli's assertion that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) were a step closer to becoming a "fully trusted" partner after completing an audit last month also took a devastating hit when it turned out that, yet again, Russia could not be trusted to do what they said they would.

Seven days have now passed since the deadline and there have been many open letters, comment pieces and a flurry of increasingly annoying anti-doping hashtags - #PleaseStop - slamming WADA so it feels like scorched earth as far as a blog topic goes.

What I am curious about is what people really want now.

WADA President Sir Craig Reedie has faced a period of intense criticism ©Getty Images
WADA President Sir Craig Reedie has faced a period of intense criticism ©Getty Images

I think the vast majority of people are in agreement that RUSADA should be made non-compliant, with so-called WADA reformers, the WADA Athlete Committee, National Anti-Doping Agencies (NADOs) and even the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Athletes' Commission indicating their support for that move. As an aside, the latter's statement was probably the clearest and most sensible one last week, amid the hysteria.

But it seems obvious that there would be disagreements beyond RUSADA being made non-complaint. I have already seen calls for Russian athletes to be suspended from international competitions, with the inferences already beginning that they should not be present at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

I fear that even if Russia suddenly provide WADA with the data, agendas will continue for the coming months. When, as it inevitably would, only a limited number of the 1,000 athletes implicated in the McLaren Report are sanctioned, I can foresee WADA being slammed for a lack of action and calls for greater punishments.

Given the social media landscape that has already brought us polarising debates on Trump and Brexit in the political sphere, in which people seek out those who share their own agenda, I suspect there will be no conclusion that truly satisfies everyone regarding the Russian doping crisis.

Besides, the ship sailed long ago in terms of Russia being handed a truly significant sanction for the systematic doping scheme.

I noted the outrage to IOC President Thomas Bach's New Year's message that the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) had served its sanction at Pyeongchang 2018. The German has been pilloried for his stance by critics, while IOC officials have supposedly claimed his comments were unrelated to the RUSADA situation.

The truth is that Bach has been saying the same thing since December 5 in 2017, when the ROC suspension was announced. The decision to create the neutral "OAR" - Olympic Athletes from Russia - team at the 2018 Winter Olympics was deemed then as a proportional sanction.

"This should draw a line under this damaging episode and serve as a catalyst for a more effective anti-doping system led by WADA,"Bach stated at the time.

The IOC sought to draw a line under the Russian doping crisis at the IOC Session in Pyeongchang last year ©Getty Images
The IOC sought to draw a line under the Russian doping crisis at the IOC Session in Pyeongchang last year ©Getty Images

Three IOC members referred to the need to "draw a line" on the issue at the IOC Session in Pyeongchang on February 25 last year, where the decision was made that the ROC would be reinstated when it was confirmed there were no further positive tests against them at Pyeongchang 2018 after two cases which did emerge during the Games.

If we rewind there for a moment, both Canada's Tricia Smith and New Zealand's Barry Maister questioned whether merely the confirmation there were no more positives from the Russian delegation was enough for their status to be restored.

You could make the case that this was the last opportunity to impose a significant incentive for the Russian Government to play ball with WADA's criteria, leaving September's compromise when RUSADA were reinstated ultimately unavoidable.

As it was, the ROC were back just days later, line drawn, with WADA left with the task of somehow sorting this situation out.

The IOC have, let us be honest, largely moved on from the Russia issue after Pyeongchang 2018. Since then, Bach has called for Russia to be welcomed back fully to the international sports community and expressed support for the ROC. Olympic Solidarity and the Olympic Council of Asia even signed an agreement with the ROC to conduct "joint programmes" to boost anti-doping efforts recently, despite the ongoing issues with RUSADA.

While there have been letters sent asking for Olympic medals to be returned by athletes stripped of prizes at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, Russia are back in the IOC good books.

Recently a senior IOC official exasperatedly exclaimed to me: "Do you really think Thomas wants dopers to be at the Olympic Games?"

I do not think he does. But I think it is equally true that after the build-ups to Rio 2016 and Pyeongchang 2018 were dominated by the Russian doping scandal, the IOC do not want the same for Tokyo 2020. Besides, I would suggest Russia ranks firmly behind problems with the 2026 Winter Olympic race, the International Boxing Association and the challenges posed by commercial enterprises in the IOC's priority list at this stage.

"This decision does not affect the eligibility of any athlete to participate, it is about by whom who is mainly tested," Bach said in October when encouraging Russia to deliver on the WADA conditions.

RUSADA has taken the focus in the first week of 2019, but it would be damaging for everyone connected to the Olympic Movement if Russia is the sole focus throughout the duration of the year ©Getty Images
RUSADA has taken the focus in the first week of 2019, but it would be damaging for everyone connected to the Olympic Movement if Russia is the sole focus throughout the duration of the year ©Getty Images

Given this, I would be staggered if Russia faced any punishment at Tokyo 2020, regardless of increased WADA compliance standards. After all, half of the WADA Executive Committee are from the Sports Movement. Are we really going to see them approve action that differs from the IOC's view?

I think those hoping for a Tokyo 2020 or major international ban from sport are likely to be disappointed, though I may be proved wrong.

My fear is that given the near single-minded focus, the Russia issue will yet again dominate throughout the duration of this year.

Sure, the issue and challenges which have been posed by the Russia crisis have been and will remain a significant issue in the anti-doping landscape. My word, we have dedicated enough words to it on this website…

However, it would be problematic if Russia and Russia alone takes all the focus when it comes to say, choosing the next WADA President. If the campaign to succeed Sir Craig descends into a sparring session over Russia, it would not be positive for the anti-doping movement.

It is quite clear the anti-doping system is not perfect and that there are other issues that need resolving, aside from the Russia situation. For a start, do NADOs really need to be testing 90-year-old amateur cyclists?

RUSADA's missed deadline is a miserable way to start the year for anti-doping. 

I fear it could get worse.

Liam Morgan will return next week