If You're Unvaccinated, You're Banned From This Major Sports Event as of Nov. 1
Officials say it will "create a safe and productive environment for Team USA athletes and staff."
Over the past few weeks, vaccine mandates have become more common across the U.S. as health officials try to find ways to slow the spread of COVID-19. The new rules can affect many parts of everyday life, from enjoying a meal in a restaurant in some cities to planning a trip abroad. But the latest mandate will significantly impact those who are going for the gold, as officials have announced that all American athletes vying for a spot on the podium at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will be banned from competing if they are unvaccinated.
In a letter released Sept. 22, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) announced that it would require "all USOPC staff, athletes and those utilizing USOPC facilities—including the training centers—to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19" in the run-up to the Winter Games. The new requirements will go into effect on Nov. 1.
The mandate also stipulates that athletes hoping to join the U.S. delegation and compete in Beijing must have proof of vaccination by Dec. 1. So far, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) hasn't announced that it will require all athletes to be vaccinated for the Games, which begin on Feb. 4, followed by the Paralympics on March 4. The USOPC said that it would allow for medical or religious exemptions so long as athletes provided them by Nov. 1, but that any unvaccinated individual would have to be tested daily for COVID-19.
"The stark reality is that this pandemic is far from over," Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the USOPC, wrote in the letter, according to Reuters. "This step will increase our ability to create a safe and productive environment for Team USA athletes and staff, and allow us to restore consistency in planning, preparation, and service to athletes."
The new regulations mark a significant change from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics held over the summer, where competing athletes were encouraged but not required to get their shots. About 83 percent of Team USA were vaccinated while vying for medals there. At the same time, the IOC estimates that more than 80 percent of all Olympians who resided in the athletes' village were vaccinated, The New York Times reports. Ultimately, 28 athletes tested positive for the virus leading up to and during the competition, while 13 tested positive during the Paralympics.
The announcement of the new rules a month before the IOC will release a plan of action outlining COVID-19 prevention protocols for all visiting athletes at the Winter Games. The move by the USOPC also comes as some have begun to question how strictly China will enforce rules such as forced quarantine on arriving visitors, media, and event staff.
The new regulations are also the first by an American athletic outlet that mandate that players and participants get vaccinated to participate. Currently, none of the other major professional North American sports leagues have such rules in place for players.