I vividly remember finding out about the Russian doping scandal of 2014.

Like most people, I was in utter disbelief about the revelations of the covert holes in walls, the swapped doping samples, the skulking about in the dead of night and the heights the corruption reached within Russia (spoiler: it went right to the very top in Russia).

It was, quite justifiably, called the biggest state-sponsored doping programme in the history of sport and caused absolute outrage around the world.

How, everyone wondered, could such a widespread and systematic doping programme have been allowed to flourish in the way it did within Russia a decade ago?

And it was uncovered, remember, not by any anti-doping organisations but rather because a whistleblower lifted the lid. Without said whistleblower, Grigory Rodchenkov, we may never have found out about the hundreds of Russian athletes that were cheating.

Maybe I was naïve, but I thought we’d never see anything like the Russian scandal again.

I believed that there was a widespread will from those right at the top of anti-doping all the way down to clean up sport and make sure countries like Russia never got away with such blatant cheating again.

How wrong I was.

Over the past week, another quite astonishing story has emerged.

And it’s convinced me that yes, I was both naïve and stupid to think that there’s truly an unadulterated desire to clean up sport.

By that, I don’t mean going after the individuals who may fail a doping test. Yes, they need to be caught but really, catching an individual here and there is the easy part. 

And that’s the issue. Individuals are being caught but the true problem, of certain countries being permitted to cover up unsavoury behaviour within their borders, is most certainly not.

It’s been revealed that in the lead-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, 23 Chinese swimmers tested positive for the same banned drug at a domestic meet.

The Herald: 23 Chinese swimmers tested positive raising suspicions about systemic doping23 Chinese swimmers tested positive raising suspicions about systemic doping

That drug was TMZ, a heart medication that is purported to help athletes’ hearts function better when they’re undertaking extremely tough physical exercise. 

Yet rather than any bans being meted out to these Chinese athletes for their failed doping tests, they were instead deemed to be the victims of an unusual case of mass-contamination, with the substance apparently making its way into athletes’ systems as a result of contamination from a hotel kitchen. 

TMZ, which is only available in pill form, was, it was claimed by the Chinese authorities, on kitchen surfaces and so when food was prepared there, it made its way into athletes’ food and in turn, into their system.

This story – that the Chinese authorities attempted to dismissively wave away any suggestion of mass-doping of their athletes – is not in itself surprising in the slightest. It’s hardly unprecedented for a nation to try to explain away positive doping tests in the lead-up to an Olympic Games if they can.

So, so far, so predictable.

It’s what came next that’s truly astonishing.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is charged with keeping sport clean, or as clean as possible.

You’d have thought, then, that their interest would have been piqued when so many swimmers, from one of the strongest Olympic nations, returned positive tests.

But, unbelievably, its concern was minimal.

WADA, in short, entirely accepted the claim of the Chinese authorities that the reason for the presence of TMZ in nearly two-dozen of its swimmers was contamination.

WADA “concluded that it was not in a position to disprove the possibility that contamination was the source of TMZ”. This willingness to accept the Chinese explanation with so little push-back is astonishing. 

And so, without even so much as a short suspension, the doping story was brushed under the carpet - it’s a busy place under there – and the Chinese swimmers were free to compete at Tokyo 2020, which many of them duly did, with some winning medals, including three golds.

There is so much to say about this story but most worryingly is what it highlights about the ambition of those charged with preventing cheating in sport.

In short, too many don’t really care about stopping doping, all they care about is being seen to be trying to stop doping.

WADA has, unsurprisingly, denied any wrong-doing and has strongly refuted any suggestion of a cover-up. Of course it has.

What’s been highlighted this week, however, is that there’s easy targets when it comes to punishing doping in sport, and there’s more difficult targets.

WADA is more than happy to go after the low-hanging fruit – by that I mean the individuals who have limited means to fight back.

A perfect example is Russian figure skater, Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old who was also found to have TMZ in her system and who claimed contamination was the source.

She was, funnily enough, treated entirely differently from the 23 Chinese swimmers – the teenager was banned for four years from sport.

It is, therefore, impossible to avoid coming to the conclusion that finding 23 of China’s swimmers guilty of doping just months before the Olympic Games was, politically, extremely inconvenient. Much easier to instead accept an entirely doubtful story that the 23 were the victims of contamination.

We all know doping goes on and will go on ad infinitum within elite sport. Never will sport be entirely clean.

Rather, the problem is that, as things stand, there seems to be a value judgement made by those in charge about who’s worth going after and who’s not. 

The lack of transparency means we have a system where the easy targets are caught and punished while the trickier, less convenient targets seem to be let off scot-free.

And that’s why these days, sport is likely to be as dirty as it’s ever been.