A Texas therapist faces up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty on Monday to supplying performance-enhancing drugs to Olympic athletes including banned Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare, US authorities said.
Eric Lira, a “naturopathic” therapist based in the city of El Paso, is the first individual to be convicted under a new US 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 US authorities to prosecute individuals involved in international doping fraud conspiracies, www.rfi.fr/en reports.
Okagbare, who was subsequently banned from the sport for 10 years, was expelled from the Tokyo Olympics just before the women’s 100m semi-finals after it emerged she had tested positive for human growth hormone in an out-of-competition test in Slovakia before the games.
Lira was found to have supplied drugs to Okagbare in the build-up to the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
US Attorney Damian Williams said 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,” Williams said.
“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 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 Justice Department statement said.
US anti-doping officials welcomed Lira’s conviction, noting that it was only made possible 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 of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, a nonprofit.
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