Mikaela Shiffrin

PARIS: Ski ace Mikaela Shiffrin and tennis star Andrey Rublev tested positive for COVID-19 just weeks from the Winter Olympics and Australian Open respectively as global sport once again felt the chill wind of the coronavirus. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Shiffrin will miss this week’s World Cup races in Lienz - but with a lead in the overall standings of over 100 points she can probably afford to.

Rublev, though, is more inconvenienced with the first Grand Slam of the season the Australian Open beginning in Melbourne on January 17. “I have to recover and I will go to Melbourne only when I am certain it is safe for everyone,” tweeted Rublev on Monday. The world number five, as well as former world number one Rafael Nadal, Wimbledon semi-finalist Denis Shapovalov and US Open champion Emma Raducanu, may well regret accepting the money to play in the exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi earlier this month.

The quartet, along with Wimbledon women’s quarter-finalist Ons Jabeur and Olympic champion Belinda Bencic, all tested positive. Raducanu did not even play as she tested positive before the tournament, as did Nadal’s coach Carlos Moya. The debate still rages on whether the English Premier League were correct to insist the show must go on over Christmas rather than call a halt.

The situation has raised Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel’s hackles - not least because his club’s appeal to have the game on December 19 with Wolves called off was rejected. “It’s not fair,” said Tuchel after his side beat Aston Villa 3-1 on Sunday. “We’ve all been in bed for 10 days and we play against teams who prepare with games postponed, and who prepare with one week for these matches. “They make us play all the time, even if we have COVID. “We have new injuries and it won’t stop. People at the green table, in offices, make these decisions.”

‘This cannot be the right way’

Unlike the English leagues, Scottish Premiership clubs had leeway and brought forward by a week their three week winter break. The decision had a financial angle: Scotland’s government had brought in measures beginning on Boxing Day that restricted attendances to 500 spectators. Shiffrin’s rivals won’t even have that number watching in Lienz as the Austrian Ski Federation deemed it necessary to bar spectators.

“We are conscious of our responsibility,” said Roswitha Stadlober, president of the Austrian Ski Federation. Little has gone right for the England cricket team in Australia with their chances of regaining the Ashes all but gone. Things grew worse as four members of the touring party - two support staff and two family members - tested positive for coronavirus hours before the start of day two in the third Test in Melbourne.

The squad are nervously awaiting results of PCR tests. “We’ve just stepped up safety protocols around the dressing room, wearing masks and keeping distance where possible,” said England pace bowler Jimmy Anderson. COVID has already cost National Hockey League players the chance to go to the Winter Olympics. They accepted last week  that the league could not make up the backlog of lost games. The situation has become so serious that the NHL have authorized teams to use taxi squads - six-player reserve groups - to bolster their rosters.

Such squads were used last season in response to the pandemic’s impact on the league. French rugby’s Top 14 bosses have not had to go that far, but the majority of their fixtures on Sunday and Monday were called off. That will place increasing pressure on the calendar as seven European matches involving French clubs were postponed from the weekend before. — AFP