— Published 9 May 2023

The Rodchenkov Act has its first culprit in the US

A new page in history or a cold case? For the first time, a man has been indicted by the US courts for supplying doping products to athletes. For the first time since its enactment, the Rodchenkov Act has been used by a court in the US to convict an individual in a doping case.

American Eric Lira, 43, a therapist who calls himself a “kinesiologist and naturopathic doctor“, was charged on Monday 8 May by the US courts. He had pleaded guilty to supplying doping products to several athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Games, including Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare (pictured above).

His sentence will be determined later, but he faces up to 10 years in prison. Eric Lira is based in El Paso, Texas. According to his testimony, he supplied doping products to Blessing Okagbare before the Tokyo Games. The Nigerian athlete, suspended for 11 years by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), was excluded from the competition before the semi-finals of the women’s 100m. A test carried out on 19 July revealed the presence of growth hormone in her samples.

Another athlete linked to the Texan therapist, Swiss 100m and 200m national record holder Alex Wilson, was also suspended for doping.

According to Manhattan District Attorney Damian Williams’ office, Eric Lira had advised his athletes to attribute any positive tests to tainted meat, even though he knew full well that the tests could detect the presence of doping agents.

At first glance, the Eric Lira case is not very different from the many doping cases that have come to light in international athletics. But the Americans are willing to swear on the Bible: it marks a turning point in the fight against cheating in sport.

On Monday 8 May, the Texan officially became the first victim of the Rodchenkov Act. Voted on 4 December 2020, it was named after the former director of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, who was at the origin of the revelations on organised doping in Russia between 2011 and 2015. The Russian is now a refugee in the United States.

Presented in the United States as a historic step forward, but criticised by part of the sports movement, the law authorises the American justice system to prosecute all persons, regardless of their nationality, involved in an international doping system.

Damian Williams’ reaction: “the case is  watershed moment for international sport. Lira provided banned performance-enhancing substances to Olympic athletes who wanted to corruptly gain a competitive edge. 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.”

Travis Tygart, the head of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), agrees: “Without this law, the man who presented himself as a doctor for athletes would probably have escaped the consequences of his distribution of doping products and his plot to defraud the Tokyo Olympics.

No doubt. But the Rodchenkov Law is not new. It was enacted almost two and a half years ago. To date, it has only nabbed one actor involved in a doping case.