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Exclusive-Soccer-Saudi Arabia waived vaccination rules for the Spanish Super Cup - sources

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia waived its requirement for visitors to be fully vaccinated to allow soccer players from Spain to compete in the Spanish Super Cup on Saudi soil, sources have told Reuters.

Soccer Football - Spanish Super Cup - Semi Final - Atletico Madrid v Athletic Bilbao - King Fahd International Stadium, Riyadh, Saudia Arabia - January 13, 2022 General view of the corner flag inside the stadium before the match REUTERS/Albert Gea

Full vaccination is mandatory to enter the kingdom according to guidelines on the government website.

Yet three sources close to the matter said exceptions were made after the Spanish Football Association negotiated with local authorities to allow all players and staff from Real Madrid, Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid to make the trip and play in the tournament, which runs from Jan. 10 to 16.

Brazil coach Tite announced on Thursday that he was leaving Atletico Madrid defender Renan Lodi out of his squad for the next two World Cup qualifiers because the player has not had a full course of COVID-19 vaccines.

Lodi is currently in Saudi Arabia where Atletico Madrid will play Athletic Bilbao later on Thursday in the second semi-final of the revamped Super Cup.

A source close to the player told Reuters that he has had the first dose of the vaccine and is scheduled to take the second on Jan. 31. The source said Lodi had not been vaccinated previously because he had contracted COVID-19.

In Madrid, where Lodi is based, the waiting period to be vaccinated against the virus after contracting COVID-19 was six months up until August 2021. It has been one month since then.

Lodi tested positive for COVID-19 in April 2020.

“All our players and members of the expedition meet the health and sports requirements that have been requested to enter the country and play the competition, as they do in the rest of the competitions in which we participate,” Atletico said in a short statement.

Saudi authorities have not responded to a request for comment.

The Spanish FA (RFEF) declined to comment on the Lodi situation, or say if any other player or staff member who was not fully-vaccinated had entered Saudi Arabia.

The Spanish Super Cup was moved to the country after the RFEF agreed a contract with the Saudis until 2029 that will earn the governing body 30 million euros ($34 million) a year.

The vaccination status of athletes has been thrust into the spotlight in the leadup to tennis’s Australian Open.

Uncertainty hangs over world number one Novak Djokovic’s participation in the tournament, with the Australian government yet to decide whether to cancel his visa for a second time over concerns about his medical exemption from Australia’s vaccine mandate.

The 34-year-old, a vaccine sceptic, fuelled widespread anger in Australia when he announced he was heading to Melbourne with a medical exemption from requirements for visitors to be inoculated against COVID-19.

Editing by Toby Davis

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