THE saga surrounding Russia and its involvement – or not – in international sport is never ending. 

For almost a decade, allegations, followed by concrete proof, of the country’s nefarious attempts to cheat in any number of sports have never been far from the headlines.

And this week, the latest instalment will take place when Russia’s appeal against its four-year ban from Olympic competition, handed down as a result of the country’s top officials manipulating anti-doping data at its Moscow laboratory, will be heard at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

The appeal by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency’s (RUSADA) against the  sanctions, which include a ban on its flag at the Olympic Games, will begin tomorrow and although it is impossible to anticipate how it will unfold, reasonable predictions are the appeal will be thrown out and the nation’s ban will remain in place.

Russia is like a problem child for sport these days. There is no doubt there is a desire to have one of the most successful nations in Olympic history clean up its act and become a significant player once again. It does few any good to have what is traditionally one of the most powerful sporting nations barred from international competition and the longer the suspension lasts, the more damage is inflicted.

The suspension though, was the least that should have been done – some maintain the punishment is still too lenient – considering the scale of cheating and corruption in which the country engaged. 

The stories of state-sponsored doping that emerged, particularly the revelations of urine tests being passed through mouse-holes cut into walls in the dead of night at the 2014 Winter Olympics, were like something from a film

The most recent crimes came to light last year, when the World Anti-Doping Agency’s compliance review committee determined that Russian officials had tried to bury hundreds upon hundreds of failed doping tests, manipulated other evidence  and destroyed other records altogether. This evidence emerged after the forensic examination of 24,000 gigabytes of Russian doping files, proving beyond reasonable doubt that the country is, as they say, at it.

The ideal solution would have been for bucketfuls of remorse to have been shown by Russia, followed by the officials involved to be removed and replaced by men and women who were determined to build successful athletes the right way.

However, this has not been the case. In recent weeks, reports have emerged detailing allegations that six Russian military officers have been charged in America with carrying out “cynical and reckless” global cyber attacks, including attempts to disrupt next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. 

The suggestion is that these individuals intended to hijack the Olympic broadcasting feeds and inject malicious software into Olympic computer systems, for the sole purpose of paralysing the competition and sending the entire opening ceremony into chaos.

These individuals, who are members of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, have previous, having also been accused of playing key roles in attacks on the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, as well as the 2017 French elections. 

The plot to disrupt the Tokyo Olympics, which will now take place next summer, was already well under way ahead of the Games being postponed due to the coronavirus, but was, it was claimed by the UK Foreign Office, thwarted by British cybersecurity teams. 

This is the first evidence that Russia was intent on disrupting Tokyo as revenge, you have to assume, for its athletes being barred from competing.

We are now well into couldn’t make it up territory. Not so long ago, it would have seemed unimaginable that presidents or prime ministers would involve themselves so deeply in sport which is, in the grand scheme of things, fairly inconsequential when it comes to running a country.

However, Vladimir Putin is, apparently, intent on destroying the Olympic movement. It seems he and his compatriots are so put out that those at the helm of global sport have had the temerity to impose these unprecedented sanctions that they will stop at nothing to ensure they damage the movement for the foreseeable future, if not forever.

These allegations of hacking Tokyo 2020 are yet to be proven but if there is even a grain of truth, the shockwaves could hit far and wide. And last for a long, long time.

It would not have been unthinkable that following the initial reports of corruption, had the individuals who were steering the ship when the doping and cheating was rampant been removed, coupled with an obvious willingness to change by those who remained, that Russia could have returned to Olympic competition fairly rapidly.

However, it has become more and more obvious that those in positions of power in Russia, allegedly going right to the top of the Kremlin, have no respect for fair or clean competition. 

This week’s appeal may be the latest chapter in this story, but it will not be the last. Until a complete overhaul of Russian sport is carried out, they should not be allowed back into the inner sanctum once again. So, there is still some way to go before this story finishes. Where it will end though, remains a mystery.