ATHLETICS, it is fair to say, does not have its troubles to seek. Some of track and field’s traditional powerhouses will be absent from the Rio Olympics because of concerns about widespread doping, while the world governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, has, to say the least, not done enough to confront the problem of drugs within the sport.

In fact, if they were asked to complete the sentence “Athletics is - ” with a single word, it’s a fair bet that many people would say “finished”. Others would use a less polite word that also starts with an f and ends in -ed.

Any sport’s decline in credibility in the eyes of the general public has a knock-on effect on its ability to attract broadcasting deals and sponsorship. The consequent drop in income and media visibility makes it less attractive to the next generation of potential participants. A fall in the number of competitors means a decline in standards and a further loss of interest, and so the downward spiral goes on.

So can athletics escape this vicious cycle? There is no guarantee that it will do so, and recovery, if it happens, will take some time - but there are several factors which suggest it is possible.

First of all, weird as it may sound, the sport is arguably cleaner than ever right now. Of course, that does not mean it is squeaky clean, and perhaps only suggests how deep-rooted the doping problem was in the past. Nonetheless, every positive test and subsequent suspension brings fairness a step closer. As does every attempt to root out state-sponsored, systematic cheating - no matter how half-hearted or cack-handed that attempt may be.

It is impossible at this distance to discover precisely how many Olympic medallists or world-record holders in the 1970s were in breach of the rules but went undiscovered. Suffice to say there were a lot of them - indeed, in certain events at some major championships, it is probable that every medallist would have tested positive has current legislation and procedures been in place..

By contrast, in Rio this summer there is at least a fighting chance that cheats will be caught. That is progress which cannot be denied, no matter how tempted we might feel to throw up our hands and say the whole process is catastrophic and beyond repair.

Having said that, if we are serious about the sport’s complete recovery there is only so long we can put up with half-hearted attempts at cleansing. The need for new leadership is obvious.

Installing that new leadership will hardly be easy, of course, because there will be substantial resistance to change from the sport’s many vested interests. But it needs to be done. And once it is done, the genuine enthusiasm which millions feel for athletics will start to flourish again.

Because, in the end, that is the one great thing that athletics - particularly the track events - has in its favour. Kids love running. From infancy onwards, we take delight in every new skill we learn, and when we learn to run we feel a natural exuberance. It’s one of the activities for which the human body is designed, and millions of young people will always look up to the great sprinters or long-distance runners and dream of emulating them.

Less generally, it was obvious this past weekend at the British Championships in Birmingham that certain parts of track and field are already thriving, no matter the malaise at the top of the sport. You only need to look at the number of Scots - a remarkable 12 - who are now certain of representing Great Britain at the Olympics to appreciate how well things are going in some areas of Scottish athletics.

There were four before the three-day trials began - three in the men’s marathon and Beth Potter in the 10,000m. Andrew Butchart made it a quintet on Saturday when he won the 1500m. And yesterday another seven were added to the list - Eilidh Doyle, Laura Muir, Steph Twell, Lynsey Sharp, Lennie Waite, Eilish McColgan and Chris O’Hare - with the prospect of more to come before the end of the qualifying period in a fortnight. A bit lower down the pecking order, the rejuvenation of Scottish middle-distance running was made clear in the number of our athletes who reached the finals of the 1500m - six men and three women.

It’s a little more than a decade since Scottish representation in British teams at world championships or Olympic Games was usually little more than Lee McConnell in the relay and Shirley Webb in the hammer. We’ve come a long way since, and given the young age of some of our representatives at the Alexander Stadium, the improvement is set to continue for some time to come.

Viewed from elsewhere in the world, or even other parts of the UK, the picture might well appear less positive. From a Scottish perspective, however, there is compelling evidence that athletics not only still has life in it, but is actually burgeoning.

The understandable global gloom, then, is offset by local optimism. It will take time, but this sport can be rebuilt from the bottom up.