Double Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes insists the public can have faith in athletics amid the dark cloud of Russian doping hovering over the 2017 World Championships in London.
An International Association of Athletics Federations’ task force investigation into Russia’s effort to clean up the sport recommended last month that the country should not return to international competition until November this year.
Russia were expelled from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio following widespread revelations of state-sponsored doping and a lack of drug testing.
With officials still refusing to recognise the extent of the problem, the prospect of Russian athletes competing at the Olympic Stadium in the capital later this summer appears unlikely.
Holmes backed the ban, saying it was the only option in working towards a level playing field across the sport.
The 46-year-old, who won 800m and 1,500m gold at the Athens Olympics in 2004, said: “The more we put a stance on this happening, the more we make all the decisions very tough or the systems being in place.
“By banning a country, as long as that’s making a difference and making a change right across the sport, then it’s a really positive thing. If people are going to assume or use hindsight, you’re always going to have doubts.
“But if you come out and say we are not tolerating this any more and we are doing our utmost to make sure every athlete competes at a level playing field, then people will have faith in your sport. That’s something we need to bring back in athletics.”
The extent of Russian doping was revealed prior to last year’s Olympics and led to the unprecedented ban across all sports.
Yuliya Stepanova, an 800m runner, was at the height of the controversy after providing damning evidence on the issue to the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Stepanova, then known as Rusanova, was banned for two years for doping in 2013 after using anabolic steroids that her coach had told her were normal to use.
The 30-year-old recorded covert conversations with coaches, athletes and a doctor before blowing the country’s doping cover-up open during an interview with German TV network Das Erste in 2014.
A WADA report last year then revealed that more than 1,000 Russian athletes across 30 sports had been involved in state-sponsored doping between 2011 and 2015. Holmes said: “Doping in sport has happened for a long time. I have been in sport for years and there were always question marks over athletes that have since come out.
“What is good about it coming out, and the ban for Russia, is that it’s actually being spoken about. It’s not being hidden under the carpet anymore.
“We know it’s been happening and we know it is happening and we have to eradicate it.
“Sport should be there to inspire people, to set dreams, aspirations and role models. You can’t do that if people are cheating.”
Holmes retired in 2005, but said it was known that doping was prevalent among competitors during her 13-year career.
Russia was one of the dominant forces in middle-distance running, winning 11 medals in the 1,500m at the indoor and outdoor World Championships between 1997 and 2005.
Holmes won 12 international medals during that time, but believes the figure would have been higher had doping controls been tighter.
One of her main rivals, Tatyana Tomashova, who finished second behind Holmes in the 1,500m in Athens a year after winning the outdoor World Championship title, received a two-year suspension for manipulating drug samples in 2008.
“I’ve lost out on quite a few of my medals,” added Holmes.
“Even though I won 12 in my international career, I know for a fact that a lot of them were against people who have now been done for doping. It does really annoy you.
“If we can start to eradicate it from the sport, it should be illegal, people should be punished, not just the athletes, but everybody else that’s assisting them.
“Then we can start to see our true stars getting the glory they deserve through hard work, determination, dedication and standing on top of that rostrum,” she added.
Dame Kelly Holmes was speaking at the regional launch of PruGoals, a partnership between Prudential and Teach First, which aims to empower young people to drive their ambitions and fulfil their potential regardless of social or economic background. For more information, please visit www.prugoals.co.uk/prugoals