Nigeria: U.S. Therapist Pleads Guilty in Okagbare’s Doping Scandal

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By Reporter 

The U.S. authorities revealed the Texas therapist faces up to 10 years in prison after admitting to supplying performance-enhancing drugs to Okagbare and a handful of other athletes.

The man at the centre of the doping scandal involving Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare, Eric Lira, has pleaded guilty to the charges brought against him by the United States authorities.

The U.S. authorities revealed the Texas therapist faces up to 10 years in prison after admitting to supplying performance-enhancing drugs to Olympic athletes, including the banned Okagbare.

Eric Lira, a “naturopathic” therapist based in the city of El Paso, is the first individual to be convicted under a new U.S. law introduced in the wake of Russia’s state-backed Olympic doping scandals, the Department of Justice said in a statement.

The 2020 law, named after Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, enables the American authorities to prosecute individuals involved in international doping fraud conspiracies.

Lira was found to have supplied drugs to Okagbare in the build-up to the Tokyo Olympics which was delayed till 2021 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The once-celebrated queen of the tracks had already made it to the women’s 100m semi-finals before she was expelled from the Tokyo Games and was subsequently banned from competing for 11 years.

As reported by AP, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said on Monday, after Lira pleaded guilty in a federal court in Manhattan, that the case was a “watershed moment for international sport”.

“Lira provided banned performance-enhancing substances to Olympic athletes who wanted to corruptly gain a competitive edge,” he said.

“Such craven efforts to undermine the integrity of sport subverts the purpose of the Olympic Games – which is to showcase athletic excellence through a level playing field.

“Lira’s efforts to pervert that goal will not go unpunished.”

While the identities of the athletes who obtained the drugs from Lira were not all disclosed, the Athletics Integrity Unit, an independent anti-doping body, said they were Okagbare and fellow Nigerian Divine Oduduru, who is facing a potential six-year ban. They were the prime culprits.

The maximum sentence for violating the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act is 10 years in prison. Lira’s sentence will be determined by a judge at a later date, the Department of Justice statement added.

U.S. anti-doping officials welcomed Lira’s conviction, noting that it was made possible only by the recently enacted law.

“Without this law, Lira, who held himself out as a doctor to athletes, likely would have escaped consequence for his distribution of dangerous performance-enhancing drugs and his conspiracy to defraud the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games because he did not fall under any sport anti-doping rules,” said Travis Tygart, the chief executive officer of the US Anti-Doping Agency.

Aside from some Nigerians that have been slammed with lifetime bans, Okagbare’s single 11-year ban is the longest for any of the country’s athletes ever.

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