According to Spanish law, full vaccination is not a prerequisite for participating in sports competitions. Although the regulations established by Spain’s regional governments must also be considered, as of this writing, unvaccinated athletes are allowed to participate in competitions. However, the question arises whether there are restrictions on unvaccinated professional athletes entering Spain, especially if they enter from a non-EU state.
Within the European Union, even at the height of the pandemic, a certain degree of freedom of movement was maintained for cross-border travel, with certain state-specific restrictions. Though being vaccinated has never been a prerequisite for entering Spain from another EU state, since the beginning of the pandemic, the European Union has set great store by protecting its external borders. Spain implemented the respective EU recommendations on 17 July 2020, in the form of Ministerial Decree INT/657/2020 and its subsequent adaptations. According to the decree, non-essential travel is generally not permitted. There are exceptions, but business trips are not always part of these exceptions.
Not included in the entry ban are nationals of a European Union state, travellers from a country classified as safe according to the annex to the mentioned ministerial decree and, as of course, travellers who are in possession of a vaccination certificate confirming full protection. Of the remaining exemptions, which relate to flight crews or health care workers, among others, the exemption relevant to the issue at hand is the one for highly qualified workers as it explicitly includes athletes participating in competitions in Spain. There is no doubt that this regulation applies to team sportsmen and sportswomen, but it is not all that evident to what degree it may apply to individual athletes, such as tennis players, since they are not actually “workers”, i.e., employees. In our view, however, they should also be subject to the exemption, as it cannot be the intention of the regulation to treat athletes who enter the country in the context of an employment relationship differently from other athletes, such as individual athletes, who also enter the country for the purpose of exercising their profession and whose participation also makes their sporting event more attractive or even possible.
The entry of an unvaccinated elite athlete from a non-EU country to an international sporting event should therefore, in principle, be possible, provided that the other entry requirements, such as the health check form, are fulfilled.