Foreign sports stars must be vaccinated to compete in France, says minister

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By Euronews  with AFP
England's Maro Itoje tries to charge down a kick from Antoine Dupont of France during the Six Nations rugby union match  at Twickenham Stadium, London, March 13, 2021.
England's Maro Itoje tries to charge down a kick from Antoine Dupont of France during the Six Nations rugby union match at Twickenham Stadium, London, March 13, 2021.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Alastair Grant

Professional athletes will have to be vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID to participate in competitions in France, the health minister stressed, a month ahead of the Six Nations rugby tournament.

French lawmakers approved on Sunday evening a law transforming the COVID health pass into a vaccine pass. This means only vaccinated people, or people who have recently recovered from the disease, will be able to visit bars, restaurants, culture and leisure venues, large fairs or use long-distance domestic public transport when previously a negative COVID-19 test also granted access.

The measure is expected to come into force on 24 January.

Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu emphasised on Twitter on Sunday evening that "as soon as the law is promulgated, it [the vaccine pass] will become compulsory to enter Establishments Receiving Public (ERP) already subject to the health pass (stadium, theatre or exhibition) for all spectators, athletes, French or foreign professionals."

The comment comes after the debacle in Australia over Novak Djokovic's visa. The unvaccinated tennis ace had been granted a medical exemption to defend his Australian Open title on the ground that he tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-December but judges overruled that decision and cancelled his visa.

France currently allows unvaccinated foreigners to enter although different rules apply to various countries depending on the epidemiological situation.

Some travellers must therefore justify a "compelling" reason to visit and adhere to a strict 10-day quarantine upon arrival. All non-EU travellers, regardless of their vaccination status, must also present a negative test.

The French Tennis Federation (FFT), which hosts the Roland Garros Open in late May, had earlier said it was working with the authorities to "specify the rules relating to the reception of non-vaccinated foreign athletes" but the latest comments from the Health Minister appear to imply that so-called "bubbles" for unvaccinated athletes will not be allowed to proceed.

The next international competitions to take place in France are a Grand Slam judo tournament (5-6 February) and the Six Nations tournament (5 February-19 March).

Three matches will take place at the Stade de France, near Paris, with the teams from England, Ireland, and Italy.

Andrea Cimbrico, the head of communications for the Italian Rugby Federation told Euronews that "the players selected in the squad that we announced earlier in January are all vaccinated and/or Covid-19 healed in the last few months, so we understand they are compliant with existing regulations."

"As you’re aware, Italian Covid-19 regulations are among the stiffest in Europe. We will keep monitoring evolutions, both internally and overseas, in order to adapt if needed," he added.

Italy already banned unvaccinated people from a swathe of public venues earlier this month and a vaccine mandate for people over 50 will be rolled out on February 1.

A spokesperson for England Rugby meanwhile told Euronews the federation "will follow government travel advice and will continue to monitor travel policies in place ahead of England’s Six Nations game in France in March.”