Canada’s anti-doping crusader buoyed by doping documentary’s Oscar win

TORONTO — An Oscar win for the doping documentary “Icarus” is “a great addition” to ongoing efforts to combat cheating in sport, says a Canadian investigator whose work helped limit Russia’s participation in last month’s Winter Olympics.

London, Ont., lawyer Richard McLaren, whose damning report for the World Anti-Doping Agency concluded widespread, state-sanctioned doping among Russian athletes, says the best documentary feature prize capped a thrilling weekend of Oscar parties and celebrity hob-nobbing.

Reached by phone in Los Angeles, McLaren said Tuesday he hopes the accolade and increased attention will allow the film — and his findings — to reach even more audiences and thereby shed light on a scandal that continues to rock the sporting world.

“It was quite the evening, it was quite the weekend,” said McLaren, buoyed by a new, unexpected platform to champion integrity in competition.

“The film informs people in a way that reports can never do, entertaining people as well as informing them about what’s going on. I welcome it as a great addition to the work I’ve done.”

McLaren appears several times in the Netflix film, directed by Bryan Fogel, who chronicles his encounter with Grigory Rodchenkov, the head of the Russian anti-doping laboratory and a key whistleblower on the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Russian Olympic athletes.

Olympic officials allowed Russian athletes who could prove they were clean competitors to participate in South Korea as “Olympic athletes from Russia,” under a neutral flag and with a prohibition on the national anthem.

McLaren appears several times in clips from press conferences detailing corruption at different stages of the investigation, while fellow Canadian and former WADA president Dick Pound also appears in interviews.

McLaren said his foray into Hollywood’s most prestigious event included a pre-party Saturday night for everyone involved in the production.

“At the end of it they thanked me and called me the hero of the piece because without me none of that, the documentary, could have been done,” he said.

The next night was the Oscar gala, which McLaren skipped in favour of Elton John’s annual AIDS fundraiser and dinner.

McLaren said he would have been “a long ways away” from the action at the Oscars.

“I thought, ‘It makes more sense to go to the Elton John (party). There are lots of celebrities at that,’” he said.

McLaren even got to meet the megastar, but says he doubts John knew who he was. But others did seem to know him, and approached him as if he was a celebrity himself.

“A number of people came up that recognized me and talked to me. It was a fantastic evening, it was magical,” says McLaren.

McLaren even got to meet the megastar, but said he doubts John knew who he was. Others did seem to know him, and approached him as if he was a celebrity himself, he said.

“A number of people came up that recognized me and talked to me. It was a fantastic evening, it was magical,” said McLaren.

“I always have wanted to go to the Oscars…I never dreamt in my wildest dream that I would be in a film that was in the nominated movies for the Academy, and then there I was. And we won. Terrific.”

As for the state of things today, McLaren said the two Russian athletes caught doping in South Korea does not suggest there’s a wider problem.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say there was an attempt to manipulate certain athletes doping procedures at the Games on any scale other than by those particular individuals,” he said.

But he was bothered by the International Olympic Committee’s decision to lift Russia’s ban Feb. 28 shortly after the Games, noting it stands at odds with two of the IOC’s own commissions that have each recognized systematic manipulation of doping control procedures.

“They look at the issue more as an international/political issue and less as a sporting/doping issue,” he noted.

McLaren said “Icarus” will continue the battle against corruption, calling it “a pretty powerful information package” that can be viewed in more than 100 languages.

“That’s why all the work was done by them to do ‘Icarus,’ and by me, to do the reports for the World Anti-Doping Agency,” he said. “The idea is to uncover what’s wrong, because you can’t really correct things until you know what’s wrong and what’s going on.”

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