The Special Olympics announced Thursday that it had dropped its Covid-19 vaccine requirement for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando after Florida threatened to fine the organization $27.5 million for violating state law.
In a statement on its website, Special Olympics lifted the “vaccine requirement as required by state of Florida officials on May 27, based upon the Florida Department of Health’s interpretation of Florida law.”
Delegates who were previously banned from participating due to the prior vaccine mandate now have the option to attend the games.
“SOI, Special Olympics North America, and the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games Local Organizing Committee are making best efforts to accommodate eligible individuals,” according to the statement. “We look forward to welcoming thousands of Special Olympics athletes, families, and fans to an extraordinary 2022 USA Games.”
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The announcement was made after a letter from the Florida Department of Health said it would impose a $27.5 million fine on Special Olympics International for 5,500 violations of a Florida statute because of the vaccine mandate. The number of violations represented a $5,000 fine for each person ordered to certify their vaccination status.
A copy of the letter from the department of health was obtained by multiple outlets, including ABC News.
Florida law bars businesses from requiring documentation of a COVID-19 vaccination. Ron DeSantis, the state’s governor, has strongly opposed vaccine mandates and other coronavirus policies endorsed by the federal government, and he praised the Special Olympics’ change Friday.
The USA Games are set to begin Sunday and run through June 12. The event is being held at sites around Orlando, Florida, including at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday shared the good news about lifting the vaccine requirement.
“Special Olympics Int’l was planning on banning Special Olympians from competing based on covid vaccine status—in violation of Florida’s ban on vaccine passports. Thanks to the efforts of our administration, this mandate has been removed so athletes like Isabella can now compete!” DeSantis tweeted.
Special Olympics Int’l was planning on banning Special Olympians from competing based on covid vaccine status—in violation of Florida’s ban on vaccine passports. Thanks to the efforts of our administration, this mandate has been removed so athletes like Isabella can now compete! https://t.co/PqN4rZCEeG
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) June 3, 2022