IF anyone thought for a second that the steady stream of doping stories that have pervaded sport over the past few years would slow down in 2017, they were sorely mistaken. Chris Froome’s recent adverse drug test finding was closely followed by revelations that the 100m world champion and convicted doper Justin Gatlin’s coach and agent have both been accused of offering to supply performance-enhancing drugs to undercover reporters.

2016 was a remarkable year in terms of doping, with the Russian track and field athletes banned from the Rio Olympics Games – something that has never been seen before in the history of sport. There were signs at the tail-end of last year though that things had turned a corner somewhat in terms of sport being cleaned up.

The Russian doping scandal appeared to be a turning point – there seemed to be a collective acknowledgement that if things didn’t change, sport could be finished.

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So the indications were that 2017 might bring more positive news than the previous twelve months had.

That optimism was entirely unfounded. January saw the overspill of the Team Sky/ Bradley Wiggins jiffy bag controversy while the following few months saw the Russian track and field team’s ban was extended to include the World Athletics Championships, Team Sky and British Cycling supremo Dave Brailsford appeared in front of a House of Commons select committee in an attempt to explain the scandals that had plagued his riders in the previous months while Rio marathon gold medallist, Jemima Sumgong, was revealed to have failed an out-of-competition test.

The second half of the year saw the revelatory film Icarus released which saw the lid lifted on the Russian doping scandal, tennis player Dan Evans fail a doping test and a number of Russian athletes admit to doping ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

Strangely though, this month’s story about Froome has been as shocking to me as anything else that has happened this year, despite the fact that in terms of severity, it doesn’t touch the Russian story.

What is so remarkable about the Froome case is that Team Sky has been built entirely on the promise of being clean and when there was a whiff of suspicion surrounding the team and Wiggins last year, Froome did his level best to distance himself and give the impression that he was whiter than white.

It remains to be seen what punishment will be dished out to the 32 year-old – and the signs are that it could be a number of weeks, if not months, before any verdict is passed. There is a fair chance that Froome will be banned for at least the first half of next year but more interesting will be seeing the impact this latest scandal has on the public perception of sport, which is already so damaged that it surely can take little more.

So where do we go from here? Can 2018 see the reputation of sport damaged even further? To prevent this, a few things must happen.

Firstly, Russia must be banned from the Winter Olympics, which take place in Pyeongchang in February. If they are not, it makes something of a farce of all the revelations that have rocked sport over the past few years and devalues the Games significantly.

Secondly, governing bodies must be seen to be hammering any athletes who commit doping offences. There remains a perception that athletes who are valuable to the sport are treated with kid gloves - and if Froome is let off with a lenient sentence, this belief will only be strengthened.

And lastly, there needs to be far more support for whistleblowers. The testing methods of the anti-doping authorities remain far behind the technology and science used by dopers and so the best and most reliable way to catch dopers is to make it easy for whistleblowers to come forward. If we rely on anti-doping tests to catch all the cheats, sport will be in an even worse place this time next year than it is now.

It will be intriguing to see how 2018 pans out - will it be the year that things actually start to improve? If not and it is another scandal-hit twelve months, it will be another nail in the coffin for sport.