There has been an amazing number of imaginative excuses conjured up by dopers over the years.

These include cyclist Tyler Hamilton’s “vanishing twin” defence, cricketer Shane Warne’s claim he had been trying to get rid of his double chin, high jumper Javier Sotomayor insisting he was set up by the Mafia and sprinter Dennis Mitchell’s theory that too much sex had resulted in him testing positive.

Another cracker has now cropped up from New Zealand distance runner Zane Robertson. The 33-year-old tested positive for EPO, which boosts endurance levels.

His excuse for its presence in his system is likely to join the list of creative defences. He accepted there was EPO in his system but it was there, he said, because when he visited a medical facility in Kenya, where he trains, for a Covid vaccination, he was injected with EPO instead.

Robertson’s case was quickly debunked after it was found that the documentation he provided to support his claim had been falsified and he has now been given an eight-year ban, twice the usual length as a consequence of his lies to try to avoid suspension.

It is easy to dismiss Robertson as a fool and a cheat. And he is both of those things.

But there is more to be taken from the New Zealander’s story and there is certainly much that can be learned about dopers and why they do it.

Robertson, and his twin brother Jake, have long been two of New Zealand’s best distance runners, with Zane in particular, excelling.

He won bronze in the 5,000m at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 before going on to set a number of national records and performing impressively in two Olympic Games.

What is unusual about Robertson’s career, however, was his choice, along with his brother, to relocate to Kenya when they were 17 to further their training.

Certainly, the signs for a decade were that the decision had paid off. But then, six months ago, Robertson tested positive for EPO, which set off his train of lies.

Immediately, Robertson was written off as a cheat, just like all the other cheats, and that he deserved everything he got.

Until now that is. Robertson has recently given an interview about his life in Kenya, failing the doping test and the aftermath.

For me, and to many others, Robertson has given an insight into why doping isn’t necessarily a black and white issue.

He has cheated and so of course he deserves to be suspended from athletics. His eight-year ban has, he admits, ended his career.

But he has also talked of how he has been affected. On a podcast, Robertson has described wanting to shoot himself in the head.

There is no getting away from the fact that this situation is of Robertson’s own making.

But to write his feelings off as entirely a consequence of his own actions is reductive.

Robertson is opaque about his exact reasons for doping which is, almost certainly, an attempt to protect others around him and prevent them being tainted by association.

But how heavy a punishment do we really want these athletes who dope to receive?

Once an individual has been caught for doping, the consequence is, quite rightly, a ban from sport. But there is something to be said for leaving it there. To, at some point, stop kicking them, and others, when they are down.

Because what is the intent of continuing to pummel these individuals once they have been caught?

There is context to every doping situation. Robertson, remember, has been based in Kenya for his entire adult life. This is a country which is, he says, “a sporting country”.

The implication, clearly, is that doping is not a foreign concept in the bubble in which he inhabited. We already know that doping is rife in the country. Currently more than 50 Kenyan athletes are banned.

But there also must be a reason for such a high number and that is as important to focus on as the act of doping itself.

I don’t like dopers, I wish athletes didn’t do it and I believe they should be banned from sport when caught.

But I also have a degree of sympathy for them because athletes do not become dopers in a vacuum. There is a reason, often numerous reasons, that have led them to take drugs.

No one wakes up one day and, out the blue, decides to take performance-enhancing drugs.

There are weeks and potentially years that lead up to that point.

Even Lance Armstrong, the most notorious doper of them all, did it first not to become a seven-time winner of the Tour de France, but to keep up with the rest of the peloton.

Robertson felt he needed to do something to keep up with the pack. He said he felt desperate and had no choice. Financially, he was struggling and so without an income from good results, he would have fallen even further behind.

That is not a valid excuse to avoid a ban but it is a reason to stop battering someone who is in a dark hole.

Robertson’s case is a timely reminder that in a sporting landscape that is full of doping stories, however heinous a crime there are shades of grey in this incredibly murky world.