A kerfluffle over Michael Andrew not wearing a mask during an Olympic interview caused the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) to confirm that Olympic athletes are not required to wear masks during interviews.
Andrew is a 22-year-old U.S. Olympian who has drawn the ire of some fans and observers, first for his public decision to remain unvaccinated, and later for not wearing a mask in a post-session interview.
After his 200 IM final, Andrew did not wear a face mask while giving an interview in the mixed zone, a space where media members can interview athletes. It’s worth noting that the mixed zone is a different venue from the interviews many television viewers have seen NBC conduct on the pool deck itself immediately after races.
A USA Today reporter drew attention to Andrew’s decision not to wear a mask, noting that “every other U.S. swimmer” she’d interviewed had worn a mask while conducting interviews in the mixed zone. When asked why he wasn’t wearing a mask, Andrew said he was prioritizing his breathing after his 200 IM.
“For me it’s pretty hard to breathe in after kind of sacrificing my body in the water,” Andrew said. “So I feel like my health is a little more tied to being able to breathe than protecting what’s coming out of my mouth.”
“I think it’s great that there’s procedures, but at the end of the day, all of us here have been under quarantine and in the same testing protocol, so there’s a level of safety (that’s) comfortable when we’re racing.” Andrew said he would put his mask back on after the interview, but would not wear it while speaking to be better heard by reporters.
The USOPC originally told USA Today it was reviewing Andrew’s conduct, and that not wearing a mask was a violation of the event’s COVID-19 protocols.
But the organization clarified several hours later that the rules do not require athletes to wear masks during interviews, though the USOPC did say Andrew had been “reminded of Games policy and established COVID mitigation protocols.”
As he has been in seemingly every aspect of his swimming career, Andrew has been something of a lightning rod for controversy in the pandemic-delayed and pandemic-adjusted Tokyo Olympics.
Andrew has not been vaccinated for the coronavirus. He said before the Olympics that he didn’t want to put anything into his body that might cause an adverse reaction and cause him to miss training, noting that he already had some level of immunity to the virus after getting COVID-19 in late 2020.