18 January 2022

The SII Anti-Doping Monitor – week ending 14 January 2022

Thirteen athletes from nine countries, competing in seven sports, were involved in anti-doping proceedings that came to light in the week ending 14 January 2022. However, the biggest anti-doping news during the week involved the first prosecution under the US Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act (RADA), perfectly illustrating how criminal legislation can bring the people behind a positive doping test to justice.

Blessing Okagbare…

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, ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She was charged by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) of World Athletics on 7 October, and a statement revealed that a 20 June OOC test in Nigeria had resulted in an additional AAF for erythropoietin (EPO). 

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

Under normal anti-doping jurisprudence, the AIU would proceed with attempting to sanction 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 an investigation.

It is likely that the case would have been closed at this point. However RADA criminalises attempts by non-athletes to influence the results of sporting competitions by use of prohibited substances or methods. 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’).

We know that Athlete 1 is Okagbare because the full charge sheet (PDF below) mentions her AAF for HGH. In addition, a Department of Justice (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.

We now also know that Lira was working for Med Sport LLC, a company based in Texas. As such, US or sporting authorities may seek to investigate whether any other athletes have worked with this company. We also know that Lira bought prohibited substances, such as HGH,  through SuperHumanStore.com. Again, US or sporting authorities may seek to see whether other individuals have bought prohibited substances from this website.

Under normal anti-doping jurisprudence, the AIU would have proceeded with its sanctioning process, and it is unlikely that much of the above would have come to light. Yet the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) sought to stop RADA and actively committed part of its Budget to lobbying against it. If RADA’s purpose is to reveal international doping conspiracies, then critics have very right to question why WADA spent public money pursuing this course of action.

Part of the problem is the introduction of Article 10.8.1 in the 2021 Code. Article 20.1.9 of the Code requires anti-doping organisations (ADOs) to ‘vigorously pursue all potential anti-doping rule violations within its authority including investigation into whether Athlete Support Personnel or other Persons may have been involved in each case of doping’. Article 10.8.1 negates this by allowing ADOs to resolve a case without the need for a hearing if an athlete admits an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV) within 20 days of being charged.

This effectively played out in another case that came to light this week. Alexis Stevens, a University soccer player, was charged with use off GW501516. Development of this hormonal and metabolic modular was discontinued after it was found to cause cancer in rats. It is a black market substance not clinically approved for human use.

As the full Decision reveals (PDF below), Stevens initially contested his provisional suspension following his AAF. However, the CCES mentioned Article 10.8.1 in the Charge Sheet, leading Stevens to admit the ADRV and receive a reduced three year sanction. Given the appeal against the provisional suspension, has Stevens truly admitted guilt, or are they simply seeking to avoid a longer sanction?

We don’t know how Stevens got hold of this clinically unapproved, black market drug. ‘The CCES now considers this case closed’, concludes the Decision. Was Stevens acting alone in using GW501516? We simply don’t know. Compare this to how the RADA is dealing with Eric Lira and ask yourself – which is the more effective approach?

Another curious case emerged from the AIU’s publication of its December sanctions. Distance runner Ding-Bin Qian was sanctioned with a five year ban for evading a test. A statement from China’s General Sports Administration, widely publicised by Chinese media, reveals that he was sanctioned for avoiding a 30 May 2021 OOC test in Japan.

WADA’s Guidelines recommend two SCPs…

On 17 November, the Chinese Athletics Association published a ‘Notice…on the Decision to deal with the athlete Qian Ding-Bin’s Doping Violation’. However, the link to the article no longer works. In a statement published by Chinese media, Qian explained that he considered the sample collection illegal, as only a single Doping Control Officer (DCO) appeared. WADA’s Guidelines for Sample Collection ‘recommend’ that two Sample Collection Personnel (SCP) are used (see right).

Another athlete has advanced an argument similar to that used by Sun Yang…

Chinese swimmer Sun Yang advanced a similar explanation in his attempt to avoid a sanction for his extreme actions in refusing sample collection. Has a precedent been set?

Please continue to send any cases we may have missed or suggestions through to our 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!

Decision Links

Ivan Arrate Lopez, Kristaps Vejs-Abolins, Angelina Kruyukova, Xinyue Ren, Dingbin Qian (Chinese Athletics Association Decision), Odilshoh Ismatov, and Simone Paredi (click here); 

Sylvain Gbohouo;

Anastasia Manashkina;

Sofya Migova;

Alan Yerizhokov (RUSADA Decision, RWF Decision)

Alexis Stevens (CCES statement & full Decision;

Jeffrey Füglister 

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