(Reuters) - The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee on Wednesday said all U.S. athletes hoping to compete at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
"Effective Nov. 1, 2021, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee will require all USOPC staff, athletes and those utilizing USOPC facilities – including the training centers – to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19," USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland wrote in a letter reviewed by Reuters.
"This requirement will also apply to our full Team USA delegation at future Olympic and Paralympic Games."
Athletes and staff would have to opportunity to obtain a medical or religious exemption to the mandate, the USOPC said.
None of the major North American sports leagues require their athletes to be vaccinated. The International Olympic Committee did not require athletes who competed at the Tokyo Games to be vaccinated although it was encouraged.
Hirshland said the USOPC had hoped COVID-19 restrictions would be lifted by the end of the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games but in reality the pandemic is "far from over".
"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," she said.
The move has the support of the Athletes' Advisory Council and National Governing Bodies Council, she said, which was further reinforced by the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the Pfizer vaccine and the recent mandates by the U.S. federal government.
The Beijing Winter Games begin on Feb. 4 next year.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; editing by Richard Pullin/Peter Rutherford)