“Very quickly during the course of the investigations I discovered that the tentacles were far reaching, and realised how significant this was going to be.”
Professor Richard McLaren (LLM 1972) was appointed as an independent person (IP) by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to investigate allegations of widespread and systematic doping in Russian sport. His subsequent reports in July and December 2016 revealed ‘a doping cover up on an unprecedented scale’.
Professor McLaren is a Senior Professor of Law at the University of Western Ontario and Counsel to McKenzie Lake Lawyers LLP, and is involved in the adjudication of sports-related disputes at both the amateur and professional level. He has recently been awarded the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest civilian honours, with the grade of officer.
You have almost three decades’ experience of investigating the use of banned substances in global sports. How did your career take this path?
The start of my sports law career was completely unplanned, it wasn’t a move I was trying to make. I had been an arbitrator in commercial and labour employment law matters in Canada for a decade when the National Ice-Hockey League (NHL) and the National Hockey Players’ Association decided to create a panel of arbitrators to settle salary disputes. I was one of the eight names put forward by the league but the players’ association presented an alternative list. Each side struck four names off the other list, I survived the cut and became a salary arbitrator for the NHL.
Very quickly afterwards, the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) was looking for someone with professional hockey arbitration experience because, for the first time ever, NHL players were allowed to participate in the Olympic Games. I joined CAS and was asked to be part of the ad-hoc division of the Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan.
I continued with all of my regular work as an academic practicing lawyer and arbitrator until, a couple of years later, I was asked to join the CAS ad-hoc division at the Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. A media controversy involving US sprinter Marion Jones, then married to a shot putter CJ Hunter, sparked at the games. He had tested positive for prohibited substances so when people saw him at the games they thought his ban had been violated and suspected the US team had helped to cover it all up.
As a result, an international commission of inquiry was set up to look into alleged cover-ups by USA Track & Field athletes on behalf of the US Olympic Committee, and I was appointed as the Chair. This was my very first investigation and it created a great stir at the time. After that, my sports career exploded and has become a huge part of my life.
You were appointed as the Independent Person for WADA investigations into doping in international sporting competitions. Your subsequent reports published last year revealed an ‘institutional doping conspiracy’ that implicated more than 1,000 athletes. Were you prepared for the level of media scrutiny that accompanied your findings?
Initially I didn’t have the slightest idea that it would draw that much media attention. However, very quickly during the course of the investigations I discovered that the tentacles were far reaching and realised how significant this was going to be.
The press conference that took place in Toronto to present the first part of the report in July last year was one of the biggest international press conferences ever to take place in Canada. By the time I presented the second part of my report in London last December, I had adjusted to the level media attention that comes with the job.
How confident are you that sport administrators are committed to cleaning up their competitions?
I am not as confident as I used to be. I think clean athletes – who are the vast majority by far– are definitely committed; they are starting to be much more active, vocal and pushy because they want to see real change.
However, sports administrators are more conflicted; they might find it is easier to ignore these issues but if you don’t deal with them quickly enough they become huge problems. Nowadays, most of the doping being discovered is not coming out of the labs but out of investigations like the one I’ve just conducted. These are long and expensive processes that damage the image and integrity of the sports concerned, so I sometimes wonder whether various sports administrations will have the determination to carry on.
Has this tainted your own enjoyment of professional sport?
If you were to ask my children they would say yes, but I have to say no. It has definitely affected me, but not necessarily in a negative way. What really bothers me is all the corruption that is creeping up in sports: the bribing, money laundering, match fixing related to gambling… All of that has the potential to destroy professional sport completely, because it can make fans disinterested and lead to sponsors withdrawing their support.
Thinking back to your days as a student, what stands out about your time in London?
One of the things that struck me as invaluable was the lively cultural life of the city, with free access to museums and cheap tickets to the theatre. That is a huge benefit when you are a student. I also remember being quite shocked to find the Director’s office occupied by protesting students on my first day at LSE.
What led you to study at LSE?
I grew up in a relatively isolated industrial town in Canada with high levels of immigration, including refugees that came from concentration camps after the Second World War. Most of my friends came from different countries, but I didn't know anything about this other world they were talking about. I developed an interest in international affairs, but you couldn’t study international affairs in Canada at that time, so I applied to do my LLM at LSE. I came on a Mackenzie King scholarship and the experience didn't disappoint me at all: and it certainly gave me a good foundation for what I currently do.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I guess it comes from the world of sport: you can’t accomplish anything without the help of others. I learned how to be a good leader and a good team player on the sports field. As a student, I was a field athlete and also played basketball and American football.
What advice would you give to young alumni looking for a career in sports law?
I would say that you don’t need to plan or manoeuvre your way in, just be your best at what you do and opportunities will arise. When that happens, be sure to seize on the right opportunity for you.