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21 Oct, 2021 07:04

‘Here we go’: WHO’s wait to approve Sputnik vaccine means Russian UFC fighters could head to ‘Fight Island’ not US, White confirms

‘Here we go’: WHO’s wait to approve Sputnik vaccine means Russian UFC fighters could head to ‘Fight Island’ not US, White confirms

New US government requirements mean that any fighters arriving from overseas must be vaccinated – and the World Health Organization's (WHO) delay in approving Sputnik V is likely to see more stars from Russia forced to Abu Dhabi.

Under stipulations unveiled by the White House on Friday, foreigners wanting to enter the US will need to provide proof of full vaccination with one seven fully approved WHO vaccines, which are yet to include the Sputnik V jab widely used in Russia.

Although Sputnik V is approved for use in more than 70 countries, it is currently undergoing a review by the WHO and the European Medicines Agency.

After meeting WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Geneva, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko suggested almost three weeks ago that only the completion of a modest amount of paperwork remains before Sputnik V is rubberstamped by the organization.

That is unlikely to help Russian UFC athletes and their teams when the new US legislation comes into force on November 8, also requiring travelers to show a pre-departure negative Covid test taken within the three days before their departure.

UFC president Dana White notified all of his international roster about the changes and emphatically reiterated that he is not ordering them to become vaccinated.

The 52-year-old American has become familiar with changing plans quickly throughout the pandemic, most notably when he set up 'Fight Island' in Abu Dhabi, acting as a solution for hosting fights without prohibitively restrictive Covid rules.

The swiftly-established Yas Island site became a mainstay for the UFC, hosting blockbuster events including Khabib Nurmagomedov's retirement win over Justin Gaethje in October 2020 and Dustin Poirier's knockout victory against Conor McGregor in January.

"I said I have no idea how all this nuttiness is going to play out, but here we go," conceded White to reporters. "I don’t know.

“I think ‘Fight Island’ is going to be hopping again. Yeah, we’re looking to do more events [there]. I’m going to Abu Dhabi [within a week], so I have a lot of meetings out there.

"I’ve been dying to walk you guys through what’s been going on in Abu Dhabi anyways, so this trip I’ll get everything done, buttoned up and finished.”

UFC 268, which will be headlined by Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington at New York's Madison Square Gardens, will take place a day before the new requirements apply, on November 7.

The participation of one of the top fighters on the card, Michael Chandler, came under scrutiny after he publicly said he did not want a vaccine, which would put him in conflict with rules for residents in New York – although it has since been clarified that the local mandate will not apply to athletes at the event.

Also on rt.com ‘That’s a big nah for me’: UFC star Michael Chandler clings to Covid vaccine hesitancy despite Pfizer jab receiving FDA approval