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Coronavirus: How is sport affected?

| 28.12.2021
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How is the coronavirus affecting sport?

The coronavirus continues to hit the sporting calendar and the vastly-spreading Omicron variant could wreak havoc over the next few weeks. 

Empty seats have become a regular feature in sporting stadiums in recent times as the action has gone behind closed doors or with a reduced crowd.

As we head into what is a typically busy period for sport and with Covid passes introduced in England for any event with more than 10,000 people, we look at what the impact of coronavirus is on each sport.

Football

The calendar has been decimated in recent weeks and the Boxing Day matches at Liverpool, Wolves and Burnley were all curtailed, while Arsenal v Wolves and Leeds v Aston Villa, scheduled for Tuesday December 28, also suffered at the hands of Covid 19.

The rise in cases saw all Premier League managers and head coaches come together for a virtual meeting with the division to discuss the ongoing situation in addition to the congested fixture list and other key issues.

Managers have repeatedly highlighted a lack of player welfare, including Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola suggesting a players’ strike may be the only way to draw attention to it.

Newcastle manager Eddie Howe added after his side’s game with Manchester United on Monday night that his squad numbers are down to the bare bones and the Magpies are “dangerously close” to being unable to field a team.

 

North of the border the Scottish Premiership has brought forward their winter break following the traditional Boxing Day fixtures meaning the rounds of matches scheduled for December 28/29 and New Year’s Day won’t go ahead.

The Welsh government’s decision to move sport behind closed doors has resulted in Swansea’s fixture with Luton on December 29 set to be played without supporters.

It is not just in Great Britain where coronavirus has caused problems, with Gareth Bale part of a selection of Real Madrid players to fall victim of a positive test recently while in Germany football has been returned to behind closed doors for some time now.

There is a drive to try and encourage players to take the vaccine to limit the risks while Tottenham have been eliminated from the Europa Conference League having been unable to field a team for their matchday six fixture with Rennes.

Cricket

Despite concerns over the impact of coronavirus and the detrimental long-term effects of stringent bio-secure bubbles, England made the decision to tour Australia this winter and fulfil their Ashes series commitments.

This was based on an understanding between the players and ECB that the rules and regulations relating to bubble life would be kept to a minimum and players’ families would not be subject to Australia’s brutal quarantine requirements at the border.

Inter-state politics have since turned the series into a logistical minefield for the ECB and their Aussie counterparts to navigate.

Australia captain Pat Cummins missed the second Test due to being a close contact of a positive case and with England 3-0 down, the series has been plunged into doubt with members of the England backroom team and three family members of the England team that are accompanying the squad in Australia, returning positive coronavirus tests while in Melbourne for the third Test.

With stringent quarantine requirements there is no option for England to fly in any replacements and they may have to delve into the English reserves playing in either the Big Bash or state cricket to top up their numbers if any of the playing squad get struck down.

Positive tests have also caused havoc in the media centre, with the various broadcasters having to share commentators and resources due to the close contact ramifications.

Tennis

With the first grand slam of the new season less than a month away, it is unknown how the Omicron variant could affect the Australian Open.

It has already been documented that unvaccinated players won’t be able to take part in the tournament which casts doubts on the eligibility of Novak Djokovic to defend his title in Melbourne.

Novak Djokovic, coronavirus

Last year the players were subjected to strict hotel quarantines in the build-up and during the tournament and with Australia known for having some of the harshest Covid-19 restrictions, time will tell what conditions await the players this time around.

Rafael Nadal has recently tested positive for Covid-19 after returning home from the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, which also puts his Australian Open participation in doubt. 

Closer to home, the Battle of Britain exhibition featuring the Murray brothers was also postponed, with Emma Raducanu missing out on picking up her BBC Sports Personality of the Year award following a positive test while in Abu Dhabi.

Rugby Union

Travel restrictions placed on UK visitors by France resulted in seven European matches featuring French and British teams being postponed, which will mean a hefty fixture backlog when things clear up.

Earlier in December, the whole of the Saracens squad and backroom staff went into isolation following a Covid-19 outbreak at the club while Montpellier were awarded a 28-0 win in the Champions Cup due to a number of Covid cases in the Leinster camp.

The Gallagher Premiership has also not escaped with Sale Sharks’ Boxing Day clash with Newcastle Falcons and Bath’s game with Exeter Chiefs scheduled for December 29 both cancelled because of insufficient player numbers.

Horse Racing

The Coral Welsh Grand National took place without spectators for the second successive season at Chepstow on Monday following the Welsh government’s decision to move all sporting events in Wales behind closed doors from Boxing Day.

Chepstow had pre-sold 6,000 tickets and over 150 hospitality packages for their feature day of the year and was expecting to double those numbers in the last few days of ticket sales.

In Ireland numbers on track are limited to those closely associated with the horses, meaning only owners and invited personnel have been able to attend Leopardstown’s big Christmas Festival.

Horse racing will always be associated with the Coronavirus pandemic due to the Cheltenham Festival continuing while the first wave of Covid-19 was gaining pace, with the highlight of the National Hunt season since classified as one of the first real ‘super-spreader events’.

horse racing, Galway, coronavirus

Racing was one of the first sports to return during the first lockdown unlocking process and has continued to race throughout subsequent periods of restrictions with a minimum of fuss.

US Sport

The NBA has introduced stricter coronavirus protocols over the Christmas and New Year period as teams are left depleted by rising cases in North America and in the hope of fulfilling as many fixtures as possible. 

Five matches scheduled to take place between December 19-21 had to be postponed, with the NBA allowing teams to sign replacements until January 19 when they will provide further guidance.

This could help the Brooklyn Nets whose roster has been decimated by a surge in Covid-19 cases.

The NFL have also felt the impact of Omicron, with three games from the latest round of matches postponed, while the NHL has decided to stop its players travelling to Beijing for the Winter Olympics due to the fixture backlog that is developing on ice.

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Author

Adam Morgan