David Owen ©ITG

Mind the gap: it is a phrase much heard on the London Underground.

But also, or so I was once advised, in the communications profession.

There, it alludes to the tendency of unwelcome news or comment to fill the vacuum, should you permit one to develop.

I was reminded of this by recent developments in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) versus Russia imbroglio.

Specifically this - while Richard Pound is right that due process must be observed, would it not have been sensible for the guardians of clean sport to have allowed for the possibility, however outlandish, that the now famous December 31 deadline might be missed by scheduling a meeting of the Independent Compliance Review Committee (CRC) for January 1 or 2?

I will remove the question-mark: it would have been sensible.

By not doing so, the anti-doping authorities have begun another year on the back foot in a tussle that is of capital importance for the credibility of elite sports regulation.

Yes, a WADA team is zeroing in on the Moscow Laboratory as I write, so it remains at least conceivable that more of its secrets might be disgorged, leading to the unmasking of more drugs cheats.

But an earlier CRC meeting, for all the excuses that have since been proffered, could have forestalled the chorus of criticism that drowned out Auld Lang Syne while offering an impression of devoted, hard-working administrators ready and willing to go the extra mile.

Even if, as has been stated, it is necessary for Russian authorities to be given a fair opportunity to make a submission before the CRC formulates its recommendation to WADA, an early meeting, via conference call if necessary, could have delivered a firm message that the clock on this was now tick-tick-ticking before the torrent of athlete criticism began spouting in earnest.

Because, make no mistake, whatever we grey-haired suits might think about the quality of the underlying arguments, the general public - i.e sport's meal ticket, or perhaps, in the not too distant future, not - take a hell of a lot more notice of what their sporting heroes say than of our carefully-crafted explanations and threnodies.

The World Anti-Doping Agency have begun 2019 on the back-foot ©Getty Images
The World Anti-Doping Agency have begun 2019 on the back-foot ©Getty Images

And, by the way, was the seemingly unavoidable delay beyond December 31 before there could be any question of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency's suspension being reimposed carefully explained last September?

I ask because such an explanation might well have been overlooked by myself and others in that furore.

But if it was not spelled out then, well, it plainly should have been, even if hardly anyone would have noticed at the time.

This brings me to a much bigger question lying concealed just beneath the surface in all of this.

It is nothing short of staggering, if you stop to think about it, how successful and important the idea of international sport has proved to be.

Even today, with the media and entertainment landscape a head-spinning maelstrom of innovation, there is little or nothing like international sport for conjuring a mass audience.

This makes it a potentially powerful tool for Governments, particularly but by no means exclusively those who presume to rule with no convincing democratic mandate, for whom an upsurge of feelgood patriotism can be inordinately useful.

Small wonder then if countries sometimes seem to value sporting success so highly that they are prepared to move heaven and earth to achieve it.

The question is this: if medals and trophies are so prized as to have become a national priority, a means to an end, for some of the most powerful nations that have ever existed, is it remotely realistic to expect the rickety, fragmented, often amateurish, under-resourced, sometimes conflicted sports governance infrastructure that we have today to be capable of formulating and enforcing the rules that should ensure fair play?

After all, countries which take the trouble to steep themselves in the realities of how international sports administration works have all manner of ways, legitimate and otherwise, of squirreling away credit in the bank to make it that little bit likelier that the really big decisions will go the way they want them to.

This is especially so in the sort of states where it is advisable for businesses to keep rulers sweet if they want to prosper.

A welcome sponsorship deal or an offer to host an unremunerative competition ought to have no direct bearing on decisions pertaining to what happens on the field of play.

But who can put hand on heart and say that they never do?

Is the much sought-after level playing field in sport impossible to obtain? ©Getty Images
Is the much sought-after level playing field in sport impossible to obtain? ©Getty Images

Sponsors and more particularly event organisers may quite naturally be assigned to Committees at which key decisions by sports governing bodies get taken.

It is widely accepted that almost any sports event you might care to name benefits when the hosts do well. 

To revert to the original question - if sports success is seen as so vital by such powerful entities, is there any realistic prospect of international sports bodies being able to ensure genuine and consistent fair play? - let's say it seems to me like a very, very, very big ask.

Which raises the further question: what happens when elite athletes and fans realise that the mythical level playing-field is, if not unattainable, then possibly a much rarer beast than some might have us believe?

Do they drift away, perhaps to private-sector leagues and competitions?

Maybe; but doesn't commercial sport harbour its own potentially distorting influences?

Is it possible then that after the better part of a couple of centuries of near constant growth, international sport is finally in danger of falling victim to its own success?

Let's hope not; but right now it does not feel to me as if this is altogether beyond the bounds of possibility.