Special Olympics Threatened With $27.5M in Fines Over Vaccine Mandate by Florida

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJune 3, 2022

Illustration picture shows the flame the opening ceremony of the 38th edition of the National Games of Special Olympics Belgium, at Sports Center Blocry in Ottignies - Louvain-la-Neuve, Wednesday 25 May 2022. From Wednesday 25 to Saturday 28 May, 2,737 athletes and 52 unified partners will take part in the National Games of Special Olympics Belgium (SOB), the largest sports event in Belgium for athletes with intellectual disabilities. They will give their best in sixteen different sports and adapted disciplines. BELGA PHOTO JOHN THYS (Photo by JOHN THYS / BELGA MAG / Belga via AFP) (Photo by JOHN THYS/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

The Special Olympics announced Thursday it would lift its vaccine requirement for the 2022 USA Games in Orlando based on a demand from Florida government officials.

"For 54 years, Special Olympics has been brave in the attempt. We don't want to fight. We want to play," the organization's statement said.

Jay O'Brien of ABC News reported Friday the state of Florida alerted the Special Olympics it would face a $27.5 million fine if it held the event with a vaccine requirement:

Jay O'Brien @jayobtv

Florida said the vaccine rule conflicted with state law, and disqualified Special Olympics athletes from competing based on their vaccine status.<br><br>State said they heard from athletes and families of athletes who complained. <br><br>Here’s the letter the state sent. 2/3 <a href="https://t.co/NgpHsQwve4">pic.twitter.com/NgpHsQwve4</a>

In November, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed sweeping legislation that banned vaccine mandates for the state's governmental, educational and private entities.

The law allowed the state to issue fines up to $10,000 per employee for small businesses and $50,000 each for medium or large corporations. The letter sent to the Special Olympics pledged to fine the organization for 5,500 violations if the mandate was enforced.

"This will be a relief to a lot of the athletes," DeSantis, a Republican, told reporters Friday. "There's a significant number of them who were in limbo up until this week."

It's unclear whether the requirement forced the Special Olympics to remove vaccine requirements for all diseases or just those related to COVID-19.

The Special Olympics' USA Games are scheduled to feature 5,000 athletes from all 50 states and the Caribbean. The Opening Ceremony is scheduled for Sunday followed by six days of competition beginning on Monday.

Founded in 1968, the Special Olympics feature athletes with intellectual and physical disabilities who are provided with year-round training and competition.

Another event, the 2022 Unified Cup, is scheduled to take place in Detroit beginning July 31.