Jun 3, 2022 - Sports

Special Olympics drops COVID vaccine mandate after dispute with Florida

Illustration picture shows the flame the opening ceremony of the 38th edition of the National Games of Special Olympics Belgium.
Illustration picture shows the flame the opening ceremony of the 38th edition of the National Games of Special Olympics Belgium. Photo: John Thys/Belga Mag/AFP via via Getty Images

The Special Olympics said Friday it plans to lift its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the 2022 USA Games after Florida threatened to fine the organization $27.5 million for violating state law.

Driving the news: “Delegates who were registered for the games but unable to participate due to the prior vaccine requirement, now have the option to attend,” the organization said in a statement.

Catch up quick: Florida's Department of Health said Thursday in a letter that it would fine Special Olympics International $27.5 million for the organization's vaccine requirement, alleging it violated state law. A copy of the letter was first reported by ABC News. Axios did not independently verify the letter.

  • The letter reportedly said the vaccine mandate impacted 5,500 athletes looking to compete in the upcoming USA Games.
  • The Florida Department of Health did not immediately return Axios' request for comment.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2021 signed an executive order banning "vaccine passports," which prevented businesses from requiring proof of vaccination, per the Orlando Sentinel.

DeSantis said at a press conference Friday that he supports the decision to reverse the mandate.

  • “We don't think it's fair or just to be marginalizing some of these athletes based on a decision that has no bearing on their ability to compete with honor and integrity," he said.
  • “And a lot of these special Olympians have also had Covid by now,” DeSantis said. “Most people have had it by now.”

What we're watching: The USA Games will begin Sunday, June 5, and run through June 12. The events will be hosted at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World.

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