Many years ago, Richard McLaren HBA’68, LLB’71, decided to change the world. “I read a book by a man named Louis Nizer,” McLaren said of the American lawyer whose autobiography topped the New York Times best-seller list for 72 weeks in the 1960s. “That man was involved in all the huge legal battles of the commercial world in the 1950s. I was fascinated by that.” My Life in Court sparked McLaren’s initial interest in law and, subsequently, influenced him to go to law school.
Half a century later, the Western law professor has become one of the strongest voices in international sport, having placed his stamp on inquiries ranging from steroids in Major League Baseball to drug testing cover-ups by USA Track & Field to widespread cheating by Russian athletes on the eve of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
The boldest headlines bearing his name began appearing a year ago, when the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) independent commission released a scathing report accusing many of Russia’s top track and field athletes of participating in a systematic doping program. Along with the athletes, the report said, coaches, trainers, doctors and even the Russian government were all part of the widespread cheating scandal. McLaren was one of three WADA independent commissioners who authored the report. Dick Pound LLD’04, and Gunter Younger rounded out the commission.
Born out of a 2014 German documentary, Top Secret Doping: How Russia Makes Its Winners, the 323-page WADA report concluded the acceptance of cheating at all levels is widespread in Russia, with a well-established system of statesponsored doping within the All-Russia Athletics Federation (ARAF), the governing body for the sport of athletics in Russia.
“I started off being very skeptical about what was shown in the documentary,” McLaren said. “Gradually, my views changed. Then, as it got deeper and deeper, I became surprised at the extent of what was going on. I guess I’m over the shock value and disappointment. I’ve been working in this field for the better part of a decade and a half. In that sense, nothing in the doping world shocks me. It’s pretty unusual to be surprised. But I was surprised by the staterun aspect of this.”
Released in June 2016, a second report – this one led by McLaren – found that the Russian government, as well as its security services and sporting authorities, colluded to hide widespread doping across “a vast majority” of winter and summer sports, including the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Despite these dual findings, however, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) allowed Russian athletes to compete at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
Nevertheless, what McLaren helped expose has been applauded across sports – and beyond.
“It’s fascinating to be on a commission that had the resources to do what we did and to come to these conclusions and then for them to have the impact they have had. Very few of these commissions have had the impact we had. There are royal commissions in this country that make huge recommendations and have zero impact,” McLaren said.
“When you make recommendations and within five days the entire sports world has done a 180-degree change and implemented every single recommendation, that is a pretty high note.”
Pound called McLaren a world leader in sports arbitration, a fact that speaks to McLaren’s good judgment and wealth of experience. “All around the world, there are people who have heard of this Canadian,” Pound said of McLaren.
Just weeks before he was named to the WADA Commission, the longtime Western Law professor and commercial litigator with McKenzie Lake Lawyers LLP was named an officer to the Order of Canada for “his contributions to sports law and arbitration, alternative dispute resolution and legal education as an internationally renowned lawyer and professor.”
“It was a completely unexpected honour and I am absolutely thrilled,” said McLaren, CEO of the consulting firm McLaren Global Sports Solutions.
McLaren began his practice in the labour and commercial law fields prior to joining the National Hockey League’s Players’ Association (NHLPA). It took “a bit of luck” to enter the world of sports arbitration. In the early 1990s, the NHL and the NHLPA set up a new legal regime for pro-hockey collective bargaining. They decided to create a new group of salary arbitrators – clubs couldn’t seem to agree with the players as to what they should be paid. Each side made a list of eight arbitrator candidates and agreed to strike four names from the opposing side’s list.
“I survived the cut,” McLaren said of how it began. “Once it started to happen, I took advantage of it.”
A long-standing member of the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the world supreme court of sports disputes, McLaren joined former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell in the Major League Baseball inquiry into the use of steroids, which culminated in the famed Mitchell Report in 2007. McLaren also led the investigation for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) into alleged drug testing cover-ups by USA Track & Field following the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics.
He has been an influential law professor at Western for more than 30 years and a mentor to many students known as “McLarenites.” He advises future lawyers to be the best lawyers they can be, seize opportunities when they come and the rest will follow.
Anastasiya Jogal of Canadian Lawyer magazine and Paul Mayne of Western News contributed to this report.