No vax required after DeSantis threatens fine
The Special Olympics bowed to pressure from Florida officials and will scrap vaccination requirements for athletes at its event this weekend after the state threatened the games’ governing body with $27.5 million in fines, according to a report.
The event, which is being held in Orlando, is expected to attract more than 5,500 athletes from around the country — all of whom were initially required to have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
But the organizers of the Special Olympics USA Games dropped its mandate after Florida threatened to impose penalties, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
“There needs to be a choice in this regard,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a promotional event in Orlando on Friday.
“Let them compete. We want everyone to be able to compete.”
Last year, DeSantis banned vaccine passports and ordered the state to issue $5,000 fines to businesses, schools and government agencies that require people to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.
Jay O’Brien of ABC News was the first to report that the Special Olympics backed down from its mandate.
DeSantis’ Health Department sent a letter to the Special Olympics International on Thursday notifying the governing body that its vaccine requirement violated state law.
Joseph Ladapo, Florida’s surgeon general, told reporters that he had been in talks with SOI over the past six months in an attempt to avoid imposing fines.
Florida’s Department of Health said the Special Olympics “was unable to bring the event into compliance for the benefit of their delegates, and reinstate all who were denied access based on proof of vaccination.”
The Special Olympics finally caved Thursday, issuing a statement that it had lifted its vaccine requirement and that all athletes would be eligible to participate.
“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.
“We don’t want to fight,” he said. “We want to play.”
Florida’s governor has not shied away from taking action against businesses and organizations that take controversial public stances on key political issues.
Earlier on Friday, it was reported that DeSantis vetoed $35 million in government spending for a new practice facility for the Tampa Bay Rays after the baseball team posted a tweet in support of gun control.
The move comes just weeks after the GOP governor — and rumored 2024 presidential hopeful — stripped Disney of its self-governing status after the Mouse House came out in opposition to a new law banning explicit sex and gender education for young children.