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Doping: Nigerian Sprinter Blessing Okagbare Banned For 10 Years

Nigeria’s 2008 Olympics long jump silver medalist Blessing Okagbare has been banned for 10 years for doping, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) announced on Friday. 

The 33-year-old, who is also a sprinter, was expelled from the Tokyo Olympics last year before the women’s 100m semi-finals after testing positive for human growth hormone at an out-of-competition test in Slovakia on July 19.

“The Disciplinary Tribunal has banned Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare for a total of 10 years,” read an AIU statement.

“Five years for the presence and use of multiple prohibited substances and five years for her refusal to co-operate with the AIU’s investigation into her case.”

Okagbare — who also won long jump silver in the 2013 world outdoor championships where she added a 200m bronze — was not named but clearly identified in an indictment last month brought against her alleged supplier, Texas therapist Eric Lira.

US justice department officials in New York said Eric Lira, a 41-year-old “naturopathic” therapist based in El Paso, supplied drugs to two athletes for the “purpose of corrupting” the Tokyo Games.

‘Call me urgently’

The indictment included encrypted correspondence from Okagbare — identified only as “Athlete 1” — and Lira where the Nigerian testifies to the effectiveness of the substances following Olympic trials in Lagos on June 17, where she clocked a wind-assisted 10.63sec in the 100m.

“Hola amigo / Eric my body feel so good / I just ran 10.63 in the 100m on Friday / with a 2.7 wind / I am sooooo happy / Ericccccccc / Whatever you did, is working so well,” Okagbare wrote.

In a later message, Lira said Okagbare was poised to “dominate” in Tokyo.

“What you did . . . is going to help you for the upcoming events,” Lira wrote. “You are doing your part and you will be ready to dominate.”

The indictment also included details of further exchanges between Okagbare and Lira after she is informed of her positive test.

“Call me urgently. . . [t]hey said one of my result came out positive on HGH . . . I don’t understand,” Okagbare wrote.

The case is the first time charges have been brought under the Rodchenkov Act — a law introduced in the United States in 2020 in the wake of Russia’s state-backed doping scandal.

The law, named after Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, enables US authorities to prosecute individuals involved in international doping fraud conspiracies.

The AIU said it is working closely with USADA “to follow developments in the matter (the criminal investigation),” regarding Lira and the ‘sole arbitrator’ that worked on her doping case had identified Okagbare as ‘Athlete 1’.

“On 12 January 2022, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced the unsealing of a first criminal charge under the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act against Eric Lira, a US based “naturopathic” therapist, who is alleged to have supplied performance enhancing drugs to athletes before the Tokyo Olympic Games.

“The sole arbitrator concluded that Athlete 1 named in the criminal complaint is Blessing Okagbare.”

 

See AIU’s full press release below:

Disciplinary Tribunal hands Blessing Okagbare a 10-year ban for
multiple breaches of the Anti-Doping Rules

18 FEBRUARY 2022, MONACO: The Disciplinary Tribunal has banned Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare for a total of 10 years, five years for the presence and use of multiple prohibited substances and five years for her refusal to co-operate with the AIU’s investigation into her case.

The sole arbitrator adjudicating the case concluded that the athlete’s use of multiple prohibited substances as part of an organised doping regimen in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympic Games was egregious conduct that amounted to aggravating circumstances under the Rules thereby warranting an additional period of ineligibility on top of the standard four-year sanction. The sole arbitrator also recognised the AIU’s right to carry out investigations, including the imaging of electronic devices, and to impose sanctions when an athlete refuses to co-operate with an investigation and thereby frustrates the AIU’s ability to fulfil its mandate to protect the integrity of the sport of athletics. In this instance, the sole arbitrator concluded that the athlete’s refusal to cooperate had denied the AIU the opportunity to discover evidence of possible further rule violations by her as well possible violations of the rules by others, for which he imposed an additional sanction of five years.

“We welcome the decision of the Disciplinary Tribunal; a ban of 10-year is a strong message against intentional and co-ordinated attempts to cheat at the very highest level of our sport. This is an outcome that was driven by our intelligence-led target testing as well as our commitment to investigate the circumstances behind a positive test,” said Brett Clothier, Head of the AIU.

On 07 October 2021, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) had pressed charges against Ms Okagbare in relation to separate disciplinary matters. First, for the presence and use of multiple (two) prohibited substances (human Growth Hormone (hGH) and recombinant erythropoietin (EPO)) for which Ms Okagbare had been provisionally suspended on 31 July 2021, the day on which she had been scheduled to participate in the semi-finals of the Tokyo 2020 women’s 100m. Subsequently, in accordance with Rule 12 of the World Athletics Anti-Doping Rules, she was charged with a refusal to co-operate with the AIU’s investigation into her case.

The athlete has the right to appeal against the Disciplinary Tribunal’s decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) within 30-days. The reasoned decision can be accessed here.

NOTE

On 12 January 2022, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced the unsealing of a first criminal charge under the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act against Eric Lira, a US based “naturopathic” therapist, who is alleged to have supplied performance enhancing drugs
to athletes before the Tokyo Olympic Games. The sole arbitrator concluded that Athlete 1 named in the criminal complaint is Blessing Okagbare. The criminal investigation in the United States is ongoing and the AIU is working closely with USADA to follow developments in the matter. The AIU is thankful to USADA, the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office for their contribution to the integrity of our sport.

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