JUST as athletics appeared to be making much needed repairs to its badly damaged reputation around doping, a bombshell was dropped late on Monday evening.

It was revealed that Alberto Salazar, the coach who has guided many an athlete including Mo Farah to world and Olympic podiums, has been banned from the sport for four years after being found guilty of doping violations. While this was shocking news, there are not many observers, myself included, who found it surprising.

For four years, there have been allegations that Salazar has been less than squeaky clean. In 2015, the BBC’s Mark Daly revealed that The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) was investigating Salazar, who ran the Nike Oregon Project and which has been home to some of the world’s leading athletes.

Even prior to the news breaking of USADA’s investigation, rumours had been rife of nefarious behaviour within the Oregon Project, with this revelation of an official investigation merely confirming the suspicions of many. Mo Farah, who was coached by Salazar from 2011 until the pair parted company in 2017 but even when Farah split with Salazar two years ago, the four-time Olympic champion maintained his decision had nothing to do with the doping investigation and so Salazar’s ban only serves to confirm that Farah’s judgement in sticking with the American for quite so long was flawed, to say the least.

Farah’s long-term involvement with Salazar did nothing for the Brit’s reputation, nor did his resolute defence of his coach and the news of Salazar’s ban will surely only serve to reignite scrutiny of Farah’s conduct. While Farah has never failed a drug test and has always denied breaking any rules, his involvement with Salazar encouraged many to cast aspersions, however unfounded they may have been. USADA’s banning of Salazar will no doubt lead to more than a few uncomfortable questions for Farah in the coming weeks.

UK Athletics’ judgement also has to be called into question. The current Performance Director, Neil Black, travelled regularly to the Nike Oregon Project between 2012 and 2015 and when questioned at the time about Salazar said: “Alberto is absolutely brilliant. He’s a genius. And he’s one of the best people to work with that I have ever come across.”

Again, questions have to be asked about such unbridled support of someone who has transpired to be so flawed.

The finer detail of USADA’s judgement on Salazar ruled he had possessed and trafficked a banned performance-enhancing substance and administered or attempted to administer a prohibited method to multiple athletes. It was found he also tampered and/or attempted to tamper with the doping control process.

Now, nobody is suggesting that Farah nor UK Athletics are psychics who are able to foresee future sanctions, but these rumours about Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project have been around for years. And while they were unconfirmed by anti-doping bodies, the whistle-blowers who had put their heads above the parapet to voice their concerns were hugely creditable individuals. Athletes such as Steve Magness and Kara Goucher continuously voiced their concerns about the conduct of Salazar at the Nike Oregon Project and this suspension has well and truly vindicated them.

USADA’s ruling shows, more than anything, how the world of anti-doping is moving on from athletes failing drug tests and towards whistle-blowers lifting the lid on illegal practices. The Salazar case proves the importance of ensuring individuals feeling safe enough to speak up and it also highlights the importance of believing whistle-blowers and looking into their allegations.

Without whistle-blowers, many of the most recent high-profile doping cases would not have seen the light of day and it cannot be overstated how important it is to create an environment whereby whistle-blowers feel safe enough to speak up against even the most high-profile of individuals.

For athletics, this story casts a sizeable shadow over the on-going World Championships. The Russian doping case damaged the sport so severely that I suspected it may never recover, but as it turned out, while still not viewed as a beacon of clean sport, athletics’ reputation has recovered far better than many predicted at the time.

However, for one of the its highest-profile coaches, who works with a number of the world’s leading athletes, including individuals who have won world titles this week, it is a blow that the sport could have done without. But however damaging these seemingly never-ending doping stories are, the cheats must continue to be exposed.

And it’s looking more and more likely that rather than positive drug tests being the final nail in the coffin, it’s going to be whistle-blowers who do more than anyone to stop the rot.