Doping-Nigeria's Okagbare banned for 10 years by AIU for doping at Tokyo Olympics

FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Women
FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Women's 100m - Round 1 - OLS - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - July 30, 2021. Blessing Okagbare of Nigeria reacts after competing in Heat 6 REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel

(Reuters) - Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare has been banned for 10 years for doping in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics and refusing to co-operate with the investigation, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) said on Friday, effectively ending her career.

Okagbare, who won silver in the long jump at the Beijing 2008 Games, was provisionally suspended last year after testing positive for multiple prohibited substances before the Tokyo Olympics and later hit with three separate anti-doping charges.

The 33-year-old had competed in the 100m heats in Tokyo on July 31 and was due to run in the semi-final before being suspended.

"The Disciplinary Tribunal has banned Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare for a total of 10 years, five years for the presence and use of multiple prohibited substances and five years for her refusal to co-operate with the AIU's investigation into her case," AIU said in a statement.

The AIU said Okagbare denied the Anti-Doping Rule Violations (ADRVs).

The AIU had pressed charges after her sample had traces of human growth hormone (hGH) and recombinant erythropoietin (EPO) -- which promotes the production of red blood cells to increase delivery of oxygen to the muscles and improve performance.

The AIU added she had refused to comply when she was asked to hand in her mobile phone as evidence.

However, her phone was reviewed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on her return to the United States from Tokyo. An FBI complaint set out "highly incriminating text and voice messages" with a therapist named Eric Lira.

In January, Lira was the first to be charged by U.S. prosecutors under the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act for distributing performance-enhancing drugs -- including hGH -- to athletes at the Tokyo Games.

Okagbare denied the ADRVs and denied she had been in touch with Lira. She has the right to appeal against the Disciplinary Tribunal's decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport within 30 days.

"We welcome the decision of the Disciplinary Tribunal; a ban of 10 years is a strong message against intentional and co-ordinated attempts to cheat at the very highest level of our sport," added Brett Clothier, head of the AIU.

Okagbare also won silver in the long jump at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, while also securing a bronze in the 200m at the same event.

(Reporting by Rohith Nair and Dhruv Munjal in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis and Christian Radnedge)

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