NEW YORK: US prosecutors have charged a man with supplying performance-enhancing drugs to athletes at the Tokyo Olympics, a first under a federal law allowing criminal charges against doping conspirators at events involving US athletes, broadcasters and sponsors.

The US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan said Eric Lira, 41, distributed drugs, including human growth hormone, “for the purpose of corrupting” the Tokyo games.

Lira obtained misbranded versions of prescription drugs used to boost production of red blood cells from Central and South America and distributed them to two athletes, prosecutors said.

One of the athletes believed to be discussed in the criminal complaint but not identified there by name is Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare.

She was provisionally banned by an international anti-doping entity, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), after testing positive for human growth hormone.

Lira was charged under the Rodchenkov Act, a law enacted at the end of 2020 and named for Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov. It lets prosecutors seek prison terms of up to 10 years and fines of up to $1 million for offenders.

The charges against Lira marked the first US criminal accusations of doping related to the Tokyo games, which were scheduled for 2020 but delayed to the summer of 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Games offered thousands of athletes validation after years of training,” Damian Williams, the US Attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement.

“Eric Lira schemed to debase that moment by peddling illegal drugs.”

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which had voiced concerns about the Rodchenkov Act, said in an email to Reuters it, “welcomes efforts by governments to penalise those who are trafficking or distributing prohibited substances.”

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2022

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