Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare has been banned for a total of 10 years, five years for using multiple prohibited substances and five years for refusing to cooperate with the AIU’s investigation into her case.
An arbitrator adjudicating the case ruled that the athlete’s use of multiple prohibited substances as part of a structured doping program prior to the Tokyo Olympic Games constituted egregious conduct that amounted to aggravating circumstances under the Rules and warranted an additional period of ineligibility on top of the standard four-year sanction.
A sole arbitrator also recognized the right of the AlU to conduct investigations, including the imaging of electronic devices, and to impose sanctions when an athlete refuses to cooperate with an investigation and thereby frustrates the AlU’s ability to fulfill its mandate to protect the integrity of athletics.
In this instance, the sole arbitrator concluded that the athlete’s refusal to cooperate had denied the AIU the opportunity to discover evidence of possible further rule violations by her as well possible víolatíons of the rules by others, for which he imposed an additional sanction of five years.
“We welcome the decision of the Disciplinary Tribunal; a ban of 10-year is a strong message against intentional and co-ordinated attempts to cheat at the very highest level of our sport. This is an outcome that was driven by our intelligence-led target testing as well as our commitment to investigate the circumstances behind a positive test,” said Brett Clothier, Head of the AIU.
On 07 October 2021, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AlU) had pressed charges against Ms Okagbare in relation to separate disciplinary matters. First, for the presence and use of multiple (two) prohibited substances (human Growth Hormone (hGH) and recombinant erythropoietin (EPO)) for which Ms Okagbare had been provisionally suspended on 31 July 2021, the day on which she had been scheduled to participate in the semi-finals of the Tokyo 2020 women’s 100m.
Subsequently, in accordance with Rule 12 of the World Athletics Anti-Doping Rules, she was charged with a refusal to co-operate with the AlU’s investigation into her case.
The athlete has the right to appeal against the Disciplinary Tribunal’s decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) within 30-days.
On 12 January 2022, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced the unsealing of a first criminal charge under the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act against Eric Lira, a US based “naturopathic” therapist, who is alleged to have supplied performance enhancing drugs to athletes before the Tokyo Olympic Games. The sole arbitrator concluded that Athlete 1 named in the criminal complaint is Blessing Okagbare.
The criminal investigation in the United States is ongoing and the AlU is working closely with USADA to follow developments in the matter.
The AlU is thankful to USADA, the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office for their contribution to the integrity of our sport.
Reacting to the allegations, Blessing Okagbare said in a statement:
My attention has been drawn to the statement issued by the AIU regarding its disciplinary panel decision. My lawyers are currently studying it for our next line of action which we will inform you soon.�❤