ATHLETICS yesterday fired its opening salvo in a battle which is about much more than simply its own own credibility and survival. It is fighting for the status of all sports, and indeed the Olympic movement, all of whom face serious financial consequences if athletics were to prove guilty as charged by a German TV report and The Sunday Times.

The quality of the International Association of Athletics Federation's forensic and comprehensive rebuttal would appear to turn the tables on tormentors, even discrediting them. Data which the two media claimed was "secret", leaked by a whistleblower, was used to claim athletics was following the mistakes of cycling, sparking an accusation that they had "sat idly by" and allowed doping to happen. But this data was already in the public domain, said the IAAF, published by them in 2011, and peer-reviewed publicly.

The newspaper wrote of six athletes who had recorded suspicious blood results which it was claimed the IAAF had ignored. In fact all six had been subject to targeted follow-up tests by the IAAF, caught, and suspended.

The athletes, five of them banned for blood-doping (boosting their red cells chemically) were the first three and the fifth-placed finisher in the 2005 World Championship women's 1500m final (all Russian): winner Tatyana Tomashova was the defending champion and Olympic silver medallist; runner-up Olga Yegorova was both World Indoor 3000m champion and outdoor 5000m champion in 2001; fifth-placed Yelena Soboleva (world indoor record holder); and Yulia Chizhenko (World champion in 2006, and European silver medallist behind Tomashova) who was disqualified after a protest was upheld, having finished third.

Rashid Ramzi (Bahrain) was the first man to win both the 800 and 1500m at the World Championships (2005) and 2008 Olympic 1500m champion.

Tatyana Chernova (Russia, steroids) won the 2011 world heptathlon title, beating defending champion Jessica Ennis into second, but took Olympic bronze behind the Sheffield athlete in London.

The athletics body pioneered Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) and say they have now caught and banned more cheats than all other sports federations and national anti-doping agencies combined. The IAAF anti-doping department has an annual budget of just over $2m for both this year and last (more than five per cent of their income) and employs 10 staff full-time.

As we stated when this story broke, abnormal blood readings (800 athletes out of 5000 over a decade) while undeniably disturbing, do not constitute doping. The majority of 19,000 blood screening tests conducted since 2001 were collected before the implementation of biological passports and thus could not have been used as evidence of doping, as the IAAF confirmed yesterday.

It was disturbing, however, to note a reference to the World Anti-Doping Agency, and IAAF "surprise" at agency comments. They said WADA "was well aware and well informed of our testing programme at the time, and never once questioned its competence or appropriateness."

WADA viewed the German documentary, “Doping – Top Secret: The Shadowy World of Athletics” and did not even wait for an IAAF response before announcing an independent investigation. This smacks of window-dressing and headline-grabbing, as does a similar rush to judgment by Travis Tygart, chief executive of US Anti-Doping. One might have thought WADA, and Tygart, would be familiar with major published data on doping in track and field.

The IAAF can only use tests and analysis validated through WADA, the 2015 edition of whose code stresses the importance of an intelligence, risk-based approach to testing. This had already been implemented by the IAAF 10 years ago.

The Olympic movement is the sum of its parts, but some parts weigh more heavily than others, and none more heavily than track and field.

Failure to prove the global governing body did not collude at sweeping bad news under the carpet would render them not just morally bankrupt, but would drive out participants and sponsors in droves, and would spill into other sports.

Corporate sponsors hate any whiff of scandal, as cycling can testify. TV stations refused to screen the Tour de France, team backers withdrew, and individual riders lost sponsorship. Lance Armstrong now faces law suits running to tens of millions. Sponsorship contracts, for both individuals and teams, now routinely contain clauses which include repayment of all money received in the event of doping.

Damning though the Festina and Operation Puerta affairs were, and the discrediting of the sport's biggest name, cycling was not so high-profile that other sports were significantly affected.

That would not be the case were athletics to implode under doping scandal. There would be potentially catastrophic repercussions across all sport.

As arguably the principal Olympic sport, athletics is the main driver of the value of TV rights and sponsorship. The movement's income derives almost entirely from three sources: broadcast rights, the global TOP sponsorship programme, and the official supplier and licensing programme. The first two of these generated 91 per cent of the IOC's total revenue in the four years to 2012. Revenue from all three sources rose from $3bn in 2000 to $5bn in 2012.

All of this depends on the profile, credibility, and integrity of the Games, from which 90 per cent of total revenue is redistributed to sport in numerous ways: $520m alone divided among each of the world's 204 National Olympic Committees, and used for training and development. That's up $219m on Beijing four years earlier.

It also distributes revenue to every international sports federation actively involved in each Games: a further $520m after London. In addition, the London organising committee received $1070m. IOC Games revenue also effectively bankrolls the World Anti-Doping Agency, Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Olympic Academy, as well as supporting the International Paralympic Committee. This contribution after London 2012 was $81m.

The damage to the Olympic image which would occur if athletics' integrity is compromised would have reduced the movement's revenue and funding for all those activities. Sustained doping, if not addressed, will impact on attitudes as surely as corrupt politicians, city traders and bankers.

The threat of athletes who have lost sponsorship, bonuses, funding, and medals, thanks to cheats remaining in the sport because the IAAF had not pursued them with due rigour, would open the door to legal actions against the governing body. One such case (Diane Modahl) bankrupted the sport in Britain, and Butch Reynolds, then world 400m record-holder, was convicted of doping, served a ban, then had the conviction quashed by the US Supreme Court. Reynolds won a $27.3m suit against the IAAF, but they claimed the ruling, made in Ohio, had no bearing upon them. The verdict was later overturned. The only winners then were lawyers.

The IAAF, WADA and the IOC need to present a united front. Otherwise dope cheats will be the only other winners.