Russia and her allies have started a vigorous fightback to stay in the Rio Olympics after the sensational disclosures about a state-directed doping programme at successive world sporting events. The strategy has bought a few days' breathing space, with the International Olympic Committee postponing any move to ban Russia from Rio until the weekend at least.
The IOC does not need to prevaricate. The shocking behaviour exposed in Richard McLaren's report is incompatible with the integrity of sport and the spirit, such as it is, of the Games. McLaren concluded that agencies at the heart of the Russian state ran the programme. The Ministry of Sport, the Russian anti-doping agency and the Russian Federal Security Service, the heir to the Soviet-era KGB, were all involved. The techniques they used would not be out of place in the plot of a Cold War novel, with the intelligence service devising a method to clean urine contaminated with performance-enhancing chemicals. The Russians ran laboratories where urine bottles could be opened undetected and samples secretly swapped to produce false positive results. "Protected" athletes - in other words, the cheats - magically produced clean samples using the midnight work of the doping enterprises which saw dirty samples exchanged for pristine ones through a concealed "mouse hole" in the lab wall. Athletes included in the chemical cover-up were track and field competitors, cyclists, wrestlers, lifters and swimmers. Russia's record 33 medals at the Sochi Winter Games - 13 of them gold - are tarnished, leaving clean athletes who lost out justifiably angry.
Given the scale of the corruption, and Moscow's role in orchestrating the cheating, the IOC would be failing in its proper duty to do anything else than tell Russia to forget about Rio. President Vladimir Putin has unsurprisingly cautioned against throwing untarnished competitors out of the games, saying it would be "unfair and uncivilised". But on this issue Russia lacks all credibility. The IOC wants to review its legal position and await the outcome of an appeal, due late tonight, of a separate but related ban on Russian track and field athletes.
The games stand at a crucial juncture. The World Anti-Doping Agency caught the Russians cold running a cheating programme on a massive scale to deliver on a win-at-all-costs mentality reminiscent of the East Germans 30 years ago. The Rio test for a global television audience that will number in the hundreds of millions is a basic one: Can I believe what I am watching? The only way the answer can be plausible - after the Russian scandal, after Lance Armstrong, Ben Johnson, and Maria Sharapova - is for sport to be clean and be seen to pass consistent, verifiable anti-doping measures.
The very strong international demand for Russia to pay a hefty price for its transgressions needs to be followed by an equally emphatic response from the IOC. Any measure that stops short of across-the-board exclusion can only lead to the conclusion that the IOC, despite the lofty ideals it claims to hold, is not serious about eradicating cheating.