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COVID-19 vaccination obligatory for professional athletes to compete in France

SAINTLARYSOULAN COL DU PORTET FRANCE JULY 14 Fans cheering The Peloton passing through LabartheRivire Village during the 108th Tour de France 2021 Stage 17 a 1784km stage from Muret to SaintLarySoulan Col du Portet 2215m LeTour TDF2021 on July 14 2021 in SaintLarySoulan Col du Portet France Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Professional athletes who want to compete in France will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 after a new law was passed in parliament, with sports minister Roxana Maracineanu making it clear there would be no exemptions.

Novak Djokovic is the defending champion of the French Open tennis tournament but the French government appears determined to avoid a similar scenario to the Serbian’s legal battle to enter Australia without being vaccinated. The new rule is expected to cover professional cycling races and hotels where teams stay.

France has obliged people to show so-called ‘health passes’ to enter restaurants and bars and attend events and use long distance public transport. The health pass will become a vaccine pass and stop the use of short-term testing. The vaccine pass will be obligatory at sporting events attended by the public and this is expected to include cycling events. Italy has already adopted a similar ‘super green pass’ that limits the use of hotels by non-vaccinated people. 

Cyclingnews has been told that only vaccinated riders and staff will be able to attend the Saudi Tour and the Tour of Oman due to national vaccine laws in the Middle Eastern countries. France will now have similar laws.   

“To practice your profession or come for pleasure as part of a sports team you will have to have a valid vaccine,” Maracineanu told French media, explaining the new laws and highlighting there will be no exemptions.   

“That’s the case for both people who live in France and also for foreigners who come to our country for a holiday or a major sporting event. Athletes have a role to play in helping convince non-vaccinated people into the vaccine programme as soon as possible.”

To obtain the new vaccine pass, a complete vaccine procedure (two doses or one, depending on the vaccine) will be required. From February 15, a third booster dose will be required four months after the previous doses for the pass to remain valid. This rule could impact riders and teams targeting the Classics and even the Tour de France in July. 

Last week Greg van Avermaet said he would put off his booster dose until after the Classics but may now have to have a booster dose in the weekend ahead. He blamed the vaccine on his poor performances in the second half of the 2021 season.   

Maracineanu suggested that 98 per cent of French athletes were vaccinated. Most cyclists are believed to be vaccinated, with one team telling Cyclingnews they were near 100 per cent. However there appears to be a number of vaccine-hesitant or anti-vaccine riders and staff in the sport, just as there are in society. 

A confidential survey carried out by the UCI before the UCI WorldTour seminar last December and seen by Cyclingnews indicates that 75 per cent of teams had more than 80 per cent of vaccinated riders and staff. However there was a high variability across teams, ranging from 40 percent to 100 percent. 

The UCI has yet to publish its final COVID-19 medical protocol for 2022, with the impact of the Omnicon variant suspected to be delaying the guidelines. 

The UCI did not immediately respond when contacted by Cyclingnews about the French vaccine pass law. Paris-Nice organisers ASO told Cyclingnews they had nothing to say on the matter.   

In the absence of rules and guidance, teams may now have to select riders and staff based on their vaccinated status, but that could impact privacy and employment laws.   

With the Tour Down Under in Australia and the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina cancelled due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, many leading riders and teams plan to kick off their 2022 in France. 

The 2022 French calendar begins with the one-day Grand Prix La Marseillaise on Sunday January 30 and continues with the Etoile de Bessèges (February 2-6), the Tour de la Provence (Feb 10-13) and the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var (Feb 18-20). Paris-Nice is scheduled for March 6-13. 

Van Avermaet was expected to make his season debut at the Etoile des Bessèges. 

Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) and Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) are all expected to ride the Tour de la Provence.

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Stephen Farrand

Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.