Of all the anti-doping campaigners who have emerged over recent years, the most unlikely has been Victor Conte.

The American posts weekly, or sometimes more regularly, on social media about the failings of the anti-doping system and, in his educated opinion, the prevalence of drugs within sport.

Someone passing comment on drug-taking within elite sport is nothing new, but when it comes from Conte, it’s worth listening to.

He, after all, is one of the most notorious figures within sport.

The now 73-year-old founded the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) and masterminded what can only be described as one of the most well-executed doping programmes in the history of sport.

I remain endlessly fascinated by Conte’s story, and it’s an interest that was piqued recently following the release of a new documentary that looks at Conte and the slick operation he ran at BALCO.

It was 20 years ago that BALCO – which supplied performance-enhancing drugs to some of the world’s highest-profile athletes – began to come crashing down but it’s been brought into sharp focus all these years on with this documentary being recently released about the lab, Conte, how the athletes got away with what they did for so long and, ultimately, how they got caught.

Conte supplied banned drugs, primarily tetrahydrogestrinone (nicknamed “the Clear”) which was, at the time, an undetectable, performance-enhancing steroid, to high-profile athletes across global sport including sprinters Marion Jones and Dwain Chambers and baseball legend Barry Bonds. There were many more.

The Herald: Dwain Chambers was a client of ConteDwain Chambers was a client of Conte

These individuals collected countless sporting honours, with Jones perhaps the most lauded globally after winning three gold and two bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

There was not a jot of evidence at the time that she, nor any of her fellow BALCO clients, were cheating.

It was only when an anonymous individual posted a syringe full of Conte’s special substance, The Clear, to the United States Anti-Doping Agency which then set the train in motion for Conte and his athletes to be stopped.

It was, and two decades on remains, a remarkable tale.

The shock of Jones’ uncovering in particular was palpable across the globe and Conte ultimately served time in prison in 2005 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering.

These days, the BALCO scandal is viewed with an air of nostalgia.

There’s many similarities in the way Lance Armstrong is looked at; that those were the bad old days.

Certainly, two decades is a long time, and the Russian doping scandal of 2014, in which it was found that Russia was operating a systematic, state-sponsored doping programme, has now displaced BALCO as the biggest doping scandal in sport.

But it’s difficult not to wonder if any lessons at all were learnt from BALCO.

Conte seems adamant there were few.

What his story tells us, first and foremost, is that if people think they can get away with it, often, they’ll cheat and cheat and cheat some more.

It’s almost certain that had Conte’s operation not been uncovered when it was, he and his athlete clients would have continued doping indefinitely.

So while drug-testing has moved on somewhat since the days of BALCO – there’s Whereabouts, the blood passport, a heavier focus on intelligence and improved testing procedures – there’s little to suggest that sport is actually cleaner than when Conte was supplying drugs to some of the biggest names in sport.

Look at the figures for those who are caught, for a start.

Literally dozens of Kenyan runners are currently banned from racing. To this day, athletes are still being disqualified from the 2012 London Olympic Games. And just last month, former world number one tennis player, Simona Halep was banned for doping.

It doesn’t exactly paint a rosy picture.

Which is why it’s quite so hard to believe that individuals like Conte aren’t used more prolifically in the battle if not to eradicate doping then at least to reduce its obvious prevalence.

But the things Conte is saying these days doesn’t sit well with the guardians of clean sport.

He alleges drug-taking remains rife in sport. 

He concedes it’s perhaps not at the volume in terms of dosage individuals are taking – something that’s a direct result of improved testing procedures – but he claims doping remains a hugely significant part of elite sport. The only difference being that instead of the drastic improvements seen by the likes of Jones, Bonds et al, the improvements are now slightly more subtle due to the somewhat decreased doping level by each guilty individual.

Whatever the anti-doping authorities say, there’s few who doubt they are lagging far behind those they’re hoping to catch. No one is remotely fooled that, on the whole, the anti-doping police are getting one over on the dopers.

So why not ask for more help from someone who actually knows what tools the “bad guys” are using to evade the testers quite so effectively? 

Using exclusively individuals who’ve never inhabited the murky world of doping is missing a trick.

Conte’s utterances on social media do, at times, give the impression he’s a somewhat off-the-wall character. But there’s nothing wrong with that.

Indeed, his charisma is likely much of the reason so many high-profile, already successful athletes risked their entire livelihoods to go all-in with him and join his doping programme.

Yes, Conte, who now operates Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning (SNAC Nutrition) which has never had an athlete test positive, and BALCO did untold damage to sport 20 years ago.

But two decades on, it seems crazy to not use him for good.