Doping Scandal: Eric Lira pleads guilty to supplying performance-enhancing drugs to Olympic athletes
The man charged will face up to ten years in prison under new US law
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Lira, who claims to be a “kinesiologist and naturopathic doctor”, was found to have supplied drugs to the Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare who was last year banned from athletics for 11 years. The charges in the case arises from an investigation of a scheme to provide Olympic athletes with PEDs, including drugs which had been widely banned throughout competitive sports, such as hormone growth hormone, and the “blood building” drug erythropoietin.
The 43-year-old has operated principally in and around El Paso, Texas, and obtained unapproved versions of the drugs from sources in Central and South America, according to reports from the US Department of Justice.
The Nigerian 24-year-old was expelled from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics just before the women’s 100m semi-final after it had been discovered she had tested positive for human growth hormone in an out-of-competition test in Slovakia before the delayed Games. In February 2022, Okagbare reacted to her sentencing by the Athletic integrity Unit and wrote a statement saying her lawyers were studying the allegations.
Following the uncovering of the scandal, which came to a head in 2020, Russia was forced to miss the Tokyo and Beijing Olympics.
What is the new law?
The law, which came into effect in 2020, is named after the Russian whistleblower, Grigory Rodchenkov. Rodchenkov, who had fled Russia, was the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory and alleged in May 2016 that there had been a highly-organised doping campaign at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act enables US authorities to prosecute individuals involved in “doping schemes for the purpose of influencing international sports competitions” including those who have not previously been governed by sport anti-doping laws. The maximum sentence for violating the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act is ten years in prison.
What’s been said?
US Attorney Damian Williams said in a federal court 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 advantage.
“Such craven efforts to undermine the integrity of sport subverts the purpose of the Olympic Games: to showcase athletic excellence through a level playing field. Lira’s efforts to pervert that goal will not go unpunished.”
The chief executive of the US Anti-doping Agency Travis Tygart said in a statement: “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.”
Tygart also added that the handling of Lira’s case: “sends a powerful message that the rules of sport matter and that the US is committed to rooting out and penalising fraudulent activity that robs clean athletes and the public. This is particularly important with many international events, including the 2026 Fifa World Cup and the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games, coming to the US soon.”