Athletics' world governing body the IAAF cannot afford to waste a crucial opportunity to help restore public faith in the sport when it rules on Russia's participation in the Rio Olympics, Darren Campbell has warned.
The IAAF's ruling council meets in Vienna on Friday to decide whether Russian athletes will remain banned for August's global showpiece because of state-sponsored doping.
Russia have been suspended from international competition since November after an investigation commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency uncovered systematic cheating and the taskforce set up by the IAAF to monitor the country's anti-doping progress is ready to deliver its all-important report to the council.
Olympic gold medallist Campbell said lifting Russia's ban would risk tarnishing the image of the sport even further.
"I'm a human being and I feel sorry for the Russian athletes that haven't actually done anything wrong and unfortunately that could mean they don't get to compete in Rio," he told Press Association Sport.
"But as a sport the greater good becomes the most important thing and, if the stance needs to be that Russia can't compete, but it helps the sport gets back to where it should be, then that's what we need to do."
Campbell added: "Athletics has been taking a battering. We are not in a great place, but we are in a place where we have the ability to do what's right for the sport, put the sport back on a good footing and it's important that the people at the top understand and appreciate that potentially this is the final chance for our sport."
Allowing Russian athletes to compete in Rio would be met with outrage by many athletes and administrators, who feel a ban which takes in only one major championship - the World Indoor Championships in March, which many athletes opted to miss anyway - is insufficient for the extent of cheating uncovered.
Indeed, WADA on Wednesday night said Russia still had " serious challenges'' to overcome in its drug-testing programme.
Campbell, who won 4x100 metres relay gold for Great Britain in Athens in 2004, admitted the IAAF had to not only do the right thing, but be seen to be doing it, especially as the WADA report also alleged "corruption was embedded" within the organisation under Lord Coe's predecessor as president Lamine Diack.
"Perception is the problem that athletics has right now," said Campbell, whose company Pro Athlete Supplementation is the official sports nutrition supplier for Premier League champions Leicester.
"The perception isn't good. People who watch it don't believe in what they're witnessing. Once you end up there what have you actually got?
"Athletics has got a problem, it's clearly had a problem for a long time, and now is the time for action and creating change."
:: Pro Athlete Supplementation have been supplying professional sport with sports nutrition products since 2006. For more information visit www.pas-nutrition.co.uk
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