WATCHING the opening night of the World Indoor Athletics Championships, it was sad again to see two champions denied the chance to hear their national anthem as they collected gold medals.

In both the men’s and women’s high jump events, the champions were Russian or, as they must be called according to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), authorised neutral athletes.

Just like in the recent winter Olympics, when competitors from that same nation were forced to compete under the moniker of Olympic Athletes from Russia, and again without displays of flag or anthem if they made the podium places.

The two winners in Birmingham on Thursday, Danil Lysenko for the men and compatriot Mariya Lasitskene, looked rueful and disappointed to have to listen to the IAAF anthem and not their own countries and understandably so.

Whatever anyone thinks about Russian athletics and there is no denying what has gone on in the past is completely out of order, should we tar everyone with the same brush?

While investigations have proven widespread doping problems, there are those who are clean and have as much right as any nation to compete on a level track and field.

Following the Pyeongchang winter games, it was announced Russia would be welcomed back into the Olympic family – now the IAAF need to do the same.

An example has been made and those guilty have been punished.

We must now move on and allow what is a great nation of sportsmen and women to earn back respect at major tournaments.

This year the best footballers on the planet will head to Russia for the World Cup and I suspect that, while there are natural concerns about potential issues off the field, the event will be a huge success.

Having been to Moscow twice in recent years, it struck me how proud a nation Russia is and sport is at the heart of that.

If a widespread ban on their athletes continues then we will not only devalue the level of quality but also disillusion those youngsters aiming to the next Lysenko or Lasitskene.

If there is no route to the top level, why should they bother training hard for hours on end?

The penance has been paid and it is now time to start over. If the likes of Justin Gatlin can have a second chance, why can’t Russian athletes?