Updated: January 23, 2022 11:04:38 pm
The impact of COVID-19 on Sport: Football, cricket, tennis, and NBA became the first major sports to be affected by the new Covid-19 variant, prompting fears of renewed travel restrictions and disrupted events just as they were returning to normal nearly two years into the pandemic.
Premier League, La Liga, Ligue 1
Pedri Gonzalez and Ferran Torres joined Barcelona’s list of players with COVID-19 on Monday. Torres tested positive hours after his official presentation in front of several thousand fans at Camp Nou following his transfer from Manchester City. Barcelona said the forward and Pedri “are in good health” and isolating at home. Pedri was hoping to return to the field soon after having recovered from a leg injury that has sidelined the Spain midfielder since September.
Barcelona is still without Gavi Paez, Ousmane Dembele, Sergino Dest, Philippe Coutinho, and Abde Ezzalzouli due to infections. Jordi Alba and Dani Alves returned to training on January 3 after testing negative following their isolations.
Real Madrid, which leads the league by eight points, said that Thibaut Courtois, Federico Valverde, Eduardo Camavinga and Vinicius Jr. had tested positive for COVID-19 before their game against Getafe. Dani Carvajal tested positive ahead of Madrid’s Supercopa final clash against Athletic Bilbao in Saudi Arabia.
On Jan 5, Paris Saint-Germain informed that Lionel Messi has tested negative for Coronavirus and will be resuming his training soon. PSG stated, “The Test carried out by Leo Messi was negative for Covid-19. He has arrived in Paris and he will resume with the group in the coming days”.
Seven Monaco players have tested positive for the coronavirus, the club said on Jan 1 on the eve of its French Cup game. The match at second-tier Quevilly-Rouen is still set to go ahead on Jan 2. Monaco said none of the seven players show any worrying signs and are isolating.
Meanwhile, Bayern is particularly hard hit with nine players testing positive for COVID-19 after the break, while Gladbach had four confirmed infections.
In Premier League, in December itself, 16 Premier League games were called off, while the three divisions below the top tier have been decimated by postponements. Liverpool’s game against Leeds, Watford’s trip to Wolves and Burnley against Everton were all cancelled before their scheduled Boxing Day fixtures. Arsenal’s home match against Wolves was axed after an increase in case numbers among Wolves’ squad. Leeds’ game with Aston Villa, scheduled for December 28, was also postponed on Sunday due to Leeds’ continued Covid and injury issues. The 20th round was reduced to seven fixtures when the match between Everton and Newcastle was postponed. A continuing Coronavirus outbreak at Newcastle has led to January 2nd’s game at Southampton being postponed, the Premier League said. Newcastle’s previous game against Everton scheduled for Thursday had also been called off.
Pep Guardiola will miss Manchester City’s FA Cup game at fourth-tier club Swindon after testing positive for the coronavirus, with seven players also in isolation. City is the latest English team to have an outbreak of COVID-19 and assistant coach Rodolfo Borrell is set to be on the sideline.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for the coronavirus again and will be absent for the Premier League match against Manchester City on New Year’s Day, the club said on December 29. Arteta is the third Premier League manager currently isolating after contracting Covid-19, after Crystal Palace’s Patrick Vieira and Aston Villa’s Steven Gerrard.
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp will miss the Premier League match at Chelsea on Sunday (Jan 2) after what the club called a suspected positive coronavirus test. Klopp has mild symptoms and is now isolating, Liverpool said Saturday. Assistant manager Pepijn Lijnders will be on the touchline leading the team at Stamford Bridge but three other members of the backroom staff have also reported suspected COVID-19 infections. Klopp announced on Dec 31 that three unnamed players had tested positive.
Gabon captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and two other members of the team’s delegation tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival in Cameroon on Thursday, threatening their participation at the Africa Cup of Nations. Aubemayang and team mate Mario Lemina returned positive results when tested on arrival at Yaounde’s airport, along with assistant coach Anicet Yala, the Gabon Football Federation said.
The three have now taken PCR tests to verify the results of the antigen tests, the statement added.If positive again, they will have to go into isolation and would almost certainly miss Gabon’s opening game.Gabon play their opening Group C match on Monday against the Comoros Islands in Yaounde. (Reuters)
Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy was among a new group of Senegal players to test positive for the coronavirus at the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon. Mendy, captain Kalidou Koulibaly and striker Famara Diedhiou returned positive results on Saturday in mandatory testing for the Senegal squad 48 hours ahead of its opening game of the African Cup against Zimbabwe, the Senegal Football Federation said.
I-League was on January 3 suspended for at least six weeks after COVID-19 breached its bio-bubble. Five players and three team officials from Real Kashmir FC, one player each from Mohammedan Sporting, debutants Sreenidi Deccan FC and Aizawl FC returned positive in the tests conducted.
Only six matches of the I-League season have been played so far, on December 26 and 27, before it was suspended.
Indian Super League (ISL) announced the postponement of the match between ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC scheduled to be played on January 15, 2022, at PJN Stadium, Fatorda. Then the 20th January match between Kerala Blasters and AKMB along with Jamshedpur’s clash against Mumbai City the next day got postponed as well.
Odisha FC’s first-choice goalkeeper Kamaljit Singh tested positive for COVID-19 moments before the team’s match against Kerala Blasters on January 12 in another setback to the Indian Super League’s bio-secure bubble. “Kamaljit has tested positive but the match is on as per schedule as the rest of the players have tested negative in the team. We have our reserve goalkeeper (Arshdeep Singh) ready,” sources close to the development told PTI.
Jamshedpur FC’s Indian Super League match against Hyderabad FC was postponed hours before kick-off on January 17 after the Jharkhand-based club failed to field a team due to COVID-19 cases in its ranks. The ISL said it will reschedule the match to a later date. A match between Kerala Blasters FC and Mumbai City FC in Vasco was also postponed on January 16, hours before kickoff as the southern outfit did not have the requisite number of players to field.
Besides players from Jamshedpur FC, members of ATK Mohun Bagan, FC Goa, Bengaluru FC and Odisha FC have also contracted the virus, while SC East Bengal too isolated themselves after their hotel staff inside the bio bubble was found positive.
AFC Women’s Asian Cup
For two years, the Indian women’s football team had been preparing for its biggest tournament so far: the Asian Cup. However, after playing just one match, they had to withdraw from the continental championship on January 23 following a Covid-19 outbreak in the squad. It is learnt that a dozen out of the 23 players in the group and four members of the support staff tested positive ahead of the crucial group-stage match against world number 39 Chinese Taipei. However, even as Taipei players took the field at Navi Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium at the official kick-off time, 7.30 pm, there was no one to face them on the opposite side.
Covid-19 breached the Indian women’s football team’s bio-security bubble here on Wednesday ahead of the AFC Asian Cup with two players testing positive for the virus, forcing the organisers to shift them to a medical facility for isolation. “Two members of the Indian Women’s Senior National Team for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup India 2022 have tested positive for COVID-19, and are currently in isolation at a designated medical care facility,” the All India Football Federation (AIFF) tweeted. “The AIFF prioritises the health and safety of its players, and are following all,” the organising federation wrote in another tweet.
On January 21st, Harbhajan Singh had also tested positive.
U-19 World Cup
India captain Yash Dhull, five other players test positive for COVID-19 at ICC Under-19 cricket World Cup in West Indies, says a BCCI official.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on Jan 4 announced the postponement of the Ranji Trophy, Col C K Nayudu Trophy & Senior Women’s T20 League for the 2021-22 season in the wake of the rising Covid-19 cases in the country.
On January 3, several members of the Bengal Ranji squad have tested positive for Covid and are currently isolating, the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) has informed. The Ranji Trophy is scheduled to commence on January 13 and Bengal, in Group B, will play their matches in Bangalore. However, with the recent upsurge in Covid cases, there remains a question mark over the scheduled start of the tournament. The BCCI has already postponed the U-16 Vijay Merchant Trophy.
Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) on Tuesday (Jan 4) also decided to put on hold all forms of local cricket till January 15, keeping in mind the recent surge of COVID-19. The affected events include first division, second division, age group tournaments, women’s cricket and all forms of cricket in the districts.
Meanwhile, flamboyant Mumbai all-rounder Shivam Dube and the team’s video analyst have tested positive for Covid-19. Sairaj Patil has been named as Dube’s replacement in a 20-member Mumbai squad.
On Jan 4, Cricket Association of Bengal president Avishek Dalmiya was admitted to a city hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. A week before, BCCI president Sourav Ganguly too was admitted to the same hospital where he was treated for four days after testing positive. Former Bengal captain Laxmi Ratan Shukla, who is also the current Under-23 coach of the state team, has also tested positive for the virus.
The spectre of Covid-19 continues to loom over the Ashes after the number of positive cases in England’s touring party rose from four to six during the third Test in Melbourne. England cricket coach Chris Silverwood will be absent for the fourth Ashes Test against Australia after a COVID-19 outbreak in the England team’s camp grew to seven confirmed cases. Silverwood needs to isolate following a positive test for the coronavirus among a family member of the touring party. There was no indication that Silverwood has the virus.
The outbreak was first detected on Boxing Day evening – 24 hours after the 60-strong tour party celebrated Christmas in a restaurant – when one of the family members travelling with the England team began to experience symptoms of the virus. This was then followed by positive results for one additional family member and two from England’s coaching staff, with a third initially deemed a close contact.
England’s preparations for the fourth Ashes Test against Australia took another hit on Jan 2 after one of their net bowlers tested positive for Covid-19, leading to cancellation of their training session with other net bowlers deemed as close contacts.
Australian pace legend Glenn McGrath has also tested positive for Covid-19, days before the Pink Test which is played in memory of his late wife Jane, who died of breast cancer, and is used as a fundraiser to support patients suffering from the dreaded disease.
Meanwhile, the ODI leg of the white-ball cricket series between the United States and Ireland was canceled on Tuesday because of coronavirus-related concerns. Two members of the Irish team’s support staff have tested positive, as well as several partners of players, resulting in two Ireland players being deemed as close contacts. All players returned negative test results in the latest checks overnight.
Four members of the Zimbabwe squad for the upcoming ICC Under-19 men’s World Cup have tested positive for Covid-19, the country’s cricket board confirmed. The four players, who took part in a four-match youth one-day series against the Ireland Under-19 side that ended here on Sunday, underwent PCR tests on Monday morning. “Zimbabwe Cricket can confirm four players who are part of the Zimbabwe Under-19 squad for the ICC Under-19 Men’s Cricket World Cup 2022 in the West Indies have tested positive for Covid-19 following PCR tests administered this Monday morning,” Zimbabwe Cricket said in a statement.
Ireland cricketers Simi Singh and Ben White have tested positive for COVID-19 and were ruled out of the first ODI against West Indies. “Simi Singh and Ben White are awaiting results of PCR tests after testing positive last night for COVID infection via a routine antigen test,” said Cricket Ireland in a statement on January 8.
Big Bash League
The Big Bash League match between Brisbane Heat and Sydney Sixers has been postponed after 12 Heat players returned positive PCR tests for Covid-19 and are currently isolating.
The numbers in the NBA keep getting higher and may continue that way for the foreseeable future. Expanded testing, agreed to earlier this month, went into place Sunday for players who have yet to receive their booster shots. Almost all NBA teams are dealing with at least one known case of virus-related issues now, and some teams are down to mere skeletons of what an NBA team should look like. Toronto played Cleveland on Sunday with eight players, four of them hardship signings brought on because 10 Raptors are currently in the protocols.
Canadian tennis star Denis Shapovalov has tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Sydney ahead of the Australian Open, which in itself is in doubt now. Shapovalov played last week at the World Tennis Championship exhibition event in Abu Dhabi, where he beat 20-times major winner Rafa Nadal in the third-place playoff match. Nadal, Olympic champion Belinda Bencic and Tunisian Ons Jabeur all tested positive for the virus after playing the tournament.
Novak Djokovic was reported to be back in immigration detention on January 15 after his legal challenge to avoid being deported from Australia for being unvaccinated for COVID-19 was moved to a higher court. A Federal Court hearing has been scheduled, a day before the men’s No. 1-ranked tennis player and nine-time Australian Open champion was due to begin his title defense at the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year.
Djokovic had spent four nights confined to a hotel near downtown Melbourne before being released last Monday when he won a court challenge on procedural grounds against his first visa cancellation.
Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 5, 2022
Following the Maharashtra government’s order on January 9 calling for curbs to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 infection, the ATP 250 Tata Open Maharashtra tennis event in Pune will now be conducted in a bio-secure bubble. The order called for the organisation of all sporting events in the state to be postponed, however, “national and international (level) competitions already scheduled” will be allowed to go ahead provided they are held behind closed doors and inside a bubble.
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) on January 4 announced that the National Youth Championships, scheduled to be held in Bhopal from January 27-29, has been shelved indefinitely following the postponement of the Asian Championships due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Elsewhere TTFI postponed all National Championships across categories due to the COVID-19 surge. Further, NRAI postponed selection trials owing to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
All India Chess Federation (AICF) on Monday announced the postponement of several national level championships scheduled for this month in view of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country and the restrictions imposed by various states. Among the tournaments put off are the national junior, sub-junior and national school championships. The new dates for the events would be announced later, AICF said in a press release.
The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) on January 7 postponed the SAAF Cross Country Championships and the 56th National Cross Country Championships, scheduled to be held in Nagaland on January 15, due to rapid spread of Omicron variant of coronavirus. “SAAF Cross Country & 56th National Cross Country Championships 2022 scheduled to be held in #Kohima Nagaland on January 15th 2022 is POSTPONED due #Omicron,” AFI tweeted. “Fresh dates will be announced later.”
The All India Inter-University Archery Championship, slated to be held in Mohali from January 18-22, was on January 7 postponed due to rising COVID-19 cases across the country. “Keeping in view the safety of the players, it has been notified to all participating universities/institutes that the All India Inter University Archery (Men and Women) Championship has been postponed till further notice,” Dr Arvinder Singh Kang, director students welfare and organising secretary of the meet stated in a letter to the sports board Universities Affiliated to AIU.
On January 12, as many as seven Indian shuttlers, including reigning world championship silver medallist Kidambi Srikanth, were withdrawn from the event after testing positive for the virus. Besides Srikanth, the other players withdrawn were Ashwini Ponnappa, Ritika Rahul Thkar, Treesa Jolly, Mithun Manjunath, Simran Aman Singh and Khushi Gupta.
Earlier, India’s B Sai Praneeth, the 2019 world championship bronze medallist, double specialists Manu Attri and Dhruv Rawat had tested positive and had pulled out before the start of the tournament.
Two players were withdrawn from the main draw of the India Open on Jan 15, ahead of their mixed doubles semifinal clash. Second-seeded Russian mixed doubles player Rodion Alimov tested positive for the virus and was withdrawn from the $400,000 tournament. His mixed doubles partner Alina Davletova was also withdrawn after being identified as a close contact.
The entire England badminton contingent had withdrawn from the India Open after the country’s doubles specialist Sean Vendy and coach Nathan Robertson tested positive for the COVID-19. England’s decision to pull out was made public by the Badminton Association of India (BAI) on January 9. The organisers, however, said that COVID tests of all players conducted this morning at the team hotel came out negative.
Multiple time world snooker and billiard champion Pankaj Advani has been infected with COVID-19. The ace cueist confirmed it to PTI on January 10. “I was following all the COVID restrictions but still got infected. We all have to be extra careful in this third wave of COVID. I have taken medicines and I think it’ll take a week for me to recover and get back to my normal routine,” Advani said. Mumbai has been one of the worst cities to get hit by pandemic and according to a bulletin issued by Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), the megapolis reported 19474 positive cases on Sunday.
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