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Gov. DeSantis 'applauds' Special Olympics' decision to drop vaccine mandate ahead of Orlando games

For more than a year, Florida has made it illegal for any business, organization or local government to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Standing at a podium with a placard that stated “let them compete,” Gov. Ron DeSantis applauded the Special Olympics’ recent decision to drop its COVID-19 vaccine mandate ahead of the USA games taking place in the Sunshine State.

This was in response to the update the Special Olympics posted on its website Thursday, stating it would lift its vaccine requirement for athletes registered to compete in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, "as demanded by the state of Florida officials on May 27, based upon the Florida Department of Health's interpretation of Florida law."

The decision now allows athletes who had not met the vaccination requirements to compete should they wish to. The Games will take place from June 5-12 in Orlando. 

"Delegates who were registered for the Games but were unable to participate due to the prior vaccine requirement, now have the option to attend. SOI, Special Olympics North America, and the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games Local Organizing Committee will make best efforts to accommodate eligible individuals.

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 continued.

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said the state has been trying to work with the Special Olympics to have them stand down on its mandate for about six months, long before the date listed in its statement.

DeSantis added he was "disappointed" by the Special Olympics' last-minute decision to drop its mandate, noting that it would be hard for some athletes across the country to make the quick turnaround and make it in time to compete.

Since April 2021, Florida has had a "vaccine passport ban," and a law that prevents any business, organization or local government to impose a vaccine mandate in the Sunshine State. Anyone who violated the law, which was backed and championed by DeSantis, is subject to penalties. 

DeSantis has touted that banning these mandates has allowed Florida to be the "free-est state" in the country. And, he suggested had the state had these “passports,” Florida wouldn’t have had its record-breaking tourism numbers in 2021.

RELATED: Sarasota police participate in Special Olympics torch run following COVID hiatus

RELATED: Florida Legislature passes bill making it illegal to require proof of COVID vaccinations

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