U.S. athletes vying for a spot at the Beijing Winter Olympics must be fully vaccinated, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) announced Wednesday.
The new requirement mandates full vaccination status for athletes and staff who use USOPC training facilities starting Nov. 1 and “will also apply to our full Team USA delegation at future Olympic and Paralympic Games,” CEO Sarah Hirshland wrote in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
“The stark reality is that this pandemic is far from over,” Hirshland added. “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.”
Team USA’s website states “all delegation members or potentials who will support Team USA at the Games” will need to show proof of vaccination or exemption by Dec. 1. Further, USOPC employees must prove full vaccination status or obtain an exemption by Dec. 31 as a condition of employment.
The USOPC policy is distinct from other professional U.S. sports leagues, including the NFL and NBA, which do not have vaccine mandates.
Coronavirus vaccines were not required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the recent Tokyo Summer Olympics, although the IOC estimated nearly 85 percent of participants who stayed in the Olympic Village were vaccinated. Around 83 percent of U.S. athletes in Tokyo were vaccinated, the AP noted.
Team USA is expected to send roughly 400 athletes to the Winter Games, which are scheduled to begin Feb. 4.