17 May 2023

The SII Anti-Doping Monitor – Week ended 12 May 2023

Twenty four athletes from 12 countries, competing in nine sports, were involved in anti-doping proceedings that came to light in the week ending 12 May. A 25rd person became the first individual charged under the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act (RADA) with supplying performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to athletes to enter a guilty plea; while a 26th person was sanctioned with a lifetime ban for supplying a prohibited substance to an athlete.

The final two cases highlight an issue with sanctioning non-athletes for involvement in doping. Both people committed the same offence of supplying prohibited substances to athletes. Yet only one is subject to a criminal trial that is certain to halt that supply to athletes.

This is because Eric Lira is based in the USA, where the supply of performance enhancing substances to athletes to cheat in competitions is a criminal offence. The other person, an unnamed ‘athlete support personnel’ is based in South Africa, which has not criminalised the supply of prohibited substances to cheat in sport.

Sport’s anti-doping sanctioning system regulates signatories to the World Anti-Doping Code. People who are found guilty of an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) can only be banned from sports that are Code signatories. Article 2.10 of the Code also prohibits association with people subject to a ban.

The South African athlete support personnel has been sanctioned with a lifetime ban from sport. Athletes that associate with them could face further sanctions. But since athletes do not know their name, policing this may prove difficult. 

The South African Institute for Drug Free Sport (SAIDS) closed the case without a hearing, as permitted under the Code. The Code also requires anti-doping organisations (ADOs) such as SAIDS to fully investigate ADRVs. 

SAIDS may be investigating, but ADOs rarely comment on investigations until there is a case to answer – i.e. until another potential ADRV is uncovered. In countries where doping isn’t a criminal offence – such as South Africa – ADOs regularly report difficulties in engaging law enforcement to investigate the circumstances behind ADRVs. Criminal offences are prioritised.

This leaves athletes without the name of the guilty athlete support personnel and no indication that anything has been done to disrupt the supply of PEDs to athletes. 

A lifetime ban from sport would have had little effect on Lira, since he doesn’t work in sport. In January last year, he became the first person to be charged by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) under the RADA with supplying PEDs to athletes. Because this is a considered a criminal offence, law enforcement investigated and charges indicate to athletes that a person involved in the supply of PEDs in sport is being held to account.

Lira’s activities were detected via sport’s testing system. Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare returned an adverse analytical finding (AAF – or ‘positive test’) for human growth hormone (HGH) after an out of competition (OOC) test in Slovakia on 19 July 2021, ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She was charged by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) of World Athletics on 7 October 2021, and a statement revealed that a 20 June OOC test in Nigeria resulted in an additional AAF for erythropoietin (EPO).  

Article 10.8.1 of the World Anti-Doping Code (click to open…)

Under anti-doping rules, the AIU would proceed with sanctioning Okagbare, who may have been eligible for a one year reduction to a four year ban under Article 10.8.1 of the World Anti-Doping Code (see right). This reduction is applicable if an athlete admits the charges within 20 days, and avoids the need for a hearing or investigation. Case closed.

However in the US, a whistleblower (‘Individual 1’) discovered drug paraphernalia at the US residence of a male athlete (‘Athlete 2’). This included packages from Eric Lira, a naturopathic therapist, addressed to another Athlete (‘Athlete 1’). This resulted in a criminal investigation.

We know that Athlete 1 is Okagbare because the Lira DoJ charge sheet (PDF below) mentions her AAF for HGH. In addition, a DoJ statement quotes a message sent from the athlete to Lira: ‘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.’ World Athletics reports that Okagbare ran 10.63 in the 100m at the Nigerian Championship in Lagos on 17 June.

The AIU sanctioned Okagbare with a five year ban; an additional five years was added due to her refusal to cooperate with the AIU’s investigation. An AIU Statement outlines how the additional charges against Okagbare would not have been possible without the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) ability to access her phone records (she had refused to comply with the AIU’s previous investigations into her case).

A Swiss athlete was provided with HGH & EPO by Eric Lira…

A separate US charge sheet issued by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York on 8 March last year outlines that on 14 June 2021, Lira provided Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and Erythropoietin (EPO) to ‘a sprinter based in Switzerland’. On 16 August 2021, Lira told the male Swiss athlete that they should blame an adverse analytical finding (AAF – or ‘positive test’) for ‘a particular steroid’ on contaminated beef.

Lira told the Swiss athlete that they should blame their AAF on contaminated beef…

Swiss Sports Integrity announced that Jamaican-born Swiss sprinter, Alex Wilson, had been sanctioned with a four year ban for an ADRV involving Trenbolone, a steroid. He blamed his AAF on contaminated beef.

The Lira DoJ charge sheet mentions that ‘Individual 1’ found doping paraphernalia at the residence of ‘Athlete 2’ in Jacksonville, Florida, after entering at their request on 12 and 13 July 2021, as the athlete was out of the country. It is understood that ‘Athlete 2’ is Nigerian sprinter Divine Oduduru, a teammate of Okagbare.

‘Based on the information in the complaint, including text conversations imaged from Okagbare’s mobile phone by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and further evidence obtained from the AIU investigation, the AIU alleges that Oduduru is ‘Athlete 2’ identified in the complaint’, read an AIU Statement. Information from the Lira case also enabled the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to sanction Sabina Allen for an ADRV. 

Four athletes have been sanctioned based on information unearthed during law enforcement investigations into Eric Lira. So why did the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) lobby against it, and why has Lira’s name not been added to WADA’s Prohibited Association List?

Please continue to send any cases we may have missed or suggestions through to the editor by clicking here. Also, if you’re an athlete, national anti-doping organisation (NADO) or other Results Management Authority and you’d like us to cover a case that you’re involved with, please get in touch! Also – a reminder. The SII Anti-Doping Monitor only features confirmed AAFs (‘positive tests’) or confirmed anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs).

Decision links

Aiden Oosthuizen, Gustav Laubscher, Athlete Support Personnel (SAIDS case List);

Esther Chesang Kakuri (ADAK Decision);

Samuel Lomoi (ADAK Decision);

Vincent Kiplangat Koskei (ADAK Decision);

Mareena George (NADA India Disciplinary Panel List, NADA India Decision);

Athan Dritsas (SIA Statement);

Jason George (Club Statement);

Agatha Jeruto Kimaswai (ADAK Decision);

Alice Aprot Nawowuma (ADAK Decision);

Alexey Tovarnov (RusAF Statement, AIU List of First Instance Decisions);

Swiss recreational athlete (SSI Statement);

Giuseppe Maiello (NADO Italia Statement);

Eric Lira (USAO SDNY Statement);

Lindsey Corrigan (USADA Statement);

Larisa Arakcheeva, Natalya Lobova, Vitaliy Yurchenko (ITA Statement);

Édouard Wanadi (CCES Statement, full Decision, club Statement); 

Giuseppe Biancolini (NADO Italia Statement);

Pietro Limido (NADO Italia Statement);

Andrey Silnov (RusAF Statement);

Besha Teshome (AIU List of First Instance Decisions, full Decision);

Lennert Van Eetvelt (Lotto DSTNY Statement);

Edoardo Francesco Faresin (NADO Italia Statement)

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