Texas man is first charged under new antidoping law in US
By Kevin Draper
A man in Texas earlier this week became the first person charged under a new federal law that makes it a crime to enable doping in international sports competitions. The man, Eric Lira, described by prosecutors as a “naturopathic therapist,” is accused of providing performance-enhancing drugs to at least two athletes, including at least one sprinter who used them to bolster her performance at the Tokyo Olympics last summer.
Federal prosecutors in New York announced the charges Wednesday in the first indictment under the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act. Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement that the move was aimed at “those who would taint the Games and seek to profit from that corruption.”
The Winter Olympics in Beijing open in three weeks, on Feb. 4.
The law, passed in 2020, makes it a crime to aid or enable doping at international sporting events, including the Olympics, but has been widely criticized because it does not apply to a major U.S. sports league like the NFL or Major League Baseball. The act is named for Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, who revealed Russia’s state-sponsored doping scheme in 2016 and then fled to the United States.
While the Rodchenkov Act passed with support of Democrats, Republicans and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, international sports organizations like the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency have called it governmental overreach.
Both USADA and the Athletics Integrity Unit, the anti-doping arm of the governing body of track and field, hailed Wednesday’s arrest in statements. Travis Tygart, USADA’s CEO, said that he was “thrilled” with the Rodchenkov Act and the “power that it brings in holding athlete support personnel or other conspirators accountable.”
In the case announced Wednesday, Lira, 41, was charged with one count of international sports doping and one count of misbranding conspiracy, for allegedly mislabeling the drugs used in the scheme.
Federal officials did not name the athletes they said received drugs from Lira. But from details given in the criminal complaint it is clear one of them is Blessing Okagbare, a Nigerian sprinter who won a silver medal in the long jump at the 2008 Olympics.
Okagbare competed in the 100-meter race at the Tokyo Olympics, winning her first-round heat before being suspended for doping and being disqualified from the semifinals. According to the Athletics Integrity Unit, Okagbare tested positive for human growth hormone.
Okagbare’s agent did not respond to a phone call or text message requesting comment. Identifying details about the second athlete, including whether the athlete competed in Tokyo or tested positive for banned substances, were scarce.
Little is known about Lira. According to the charging document, he calls himself a “kinesiologist and naturopathic ND” on social media sites and is a managing member of Med Sport, a company that was registered in Texas in 2017. He is not a licensed physician or physical therapist in Texas, New York or Florida, according to federal officials.
Lira competed in track and field for the University of Texas at El Paso between 2000 and 2004, according to a news article in the El Paso Times, which said he was from Sunland Park, New Mexico. Okagbare also competed for UTEP, between 2008 and 2010.
Lira was in a jail in El Paso on Wednesday afternoon and unable to be reached for comment. It was not immediately clear if he had retained a lawyer.