By Kayon Raynor and Andre Lowe
A major law enforcement agency is actively pursuing the anti-doping case involving the provisionally suspended Nigerian sprinter and 2008 Olympic long jump silver medallist, Blessing Okagbare, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter.
The investigations, which are grounded in the United States, fall under the controversial Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act passed by the U.S. Government in December 2020, which grants extraterritorial jurisdiction under major international doping fraud conspiracies.
While the Act provides the legal framework for the prosecution of individuals involved in doping schemes at international sports competitions involving American athletes, broadcasters and sponsors, under the law, criminal prosecution cannot be brought against athletes who test positive for performance-enhancing substances, as is the case with Okagbare.
The Act states: “It shall be unlawful for any person, other than an athlete, to knowingly carry into effect, or conspire with any other person to carry into effect a scheme in commerce to influence by use of a prohibited substance or prohibited method any major international sports competition."
The legislation stipulates criminal penalties including a prison sentence and a fine.
Section 4 of the legislation, in part, speaks to criminal penalties and statute of limitations under major international doping fraud conspiracies.
It says whoever violates Section 3 shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment for not more than 10 years, fined $250,000 if the person is an individual or $1,000, 000 if the defendant is other than an individual, or both.
This development comes just over a month after Okagbare was barred from contesting the 100m semi-finals at the Tokyo Olympics having been provisionally suspended by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) on July 31 for using the banned drug Human Growth Hormone (HGH).
Under the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) rules, HGH, which is an anabolic steroid, carries a maximum four-year ban for first time offenders.
Contacted on September 18 via messenger application WhatsApp for a comment on the criminal investigation by the law enforcement agency, Okagbare declined.
“I don't have anything to say to you nor anyone,” the 2013 World Championship long jump silver medallist told the RJRGLEANER Group.
“With due respect, I don't know how you got my number or who asked you to call me,” she added.
Two days earlier (September 16), the major law enforcement agency, told the RJRGLEANER Group it had “no comment”, when queries were made about their involvement in the Okagbare anti-doping matter.
It should be noted that the agency’s policy is to not confirm or deny involvement in cases.
The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) would not be drawn into providing any update on the 32-year-old sprinter’s case.
“As the case is ongoing, there aren't further updates we can share at this stage,” AIU official Julie Burley said in an emailed response to the RJRGLEANER Group on September 28.
“Any announcements or news will be posted on our website and social channels when relevant,” the official added.
The AIU, in their July 31 press release, indicated that Okagbare’s adverse analytical finding was discovered during an out of competition test on July 19.
It should be noted that there has been no update on the status of Okagbare’s ‘B’ sample to date.
Okagbare’s doping violation fell within the 10-day period preceding the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, which is classified under the Tokyo 2020 Anti-Doping Regulations, outlined by the Court of Arbitration for Sports, as the start of the event’s competition period.
Rule 59.2.4 in the Olympic Charter states: “The IOC Executive Board may delegate its power to a disciplinary commission.”
Okagbare’s coach denies knowledge
Okagbare’s coach at the Jacksonville Florida-based Tumbleweed Track Club Rana Reider has denied any knowledge or involvement in the anti-doping matter.
“The situation with Blessing Okagbare has nothing to do with Tumbleweed Track Club. I know nothing about any investigation and I have had no communication whatsoever with Blessing since news of her positive test came out,” Reider told the RJRGLEANER Group.
At least one source with close connections to Tumbleweed has said multiple athletes from the club were questioned during the Olympics following the AIU’s announcement of Okagbare’s doping violation.
When contacted, agent Paul Doyle declined comment on the matter. It is also understood that Doyle no longer represents Okagbare, following her doping violation.
The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act is named after the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, who exposed widescale State-sponsored doping in Russia.