Dan Biggar fears a "huge step backwards" if there are no crowds allowed at matches moving into 2022.

While crowds at sporting events have yet to be capped in England, matches in Wales and Scotland are now limited when it comes to capacity, amid a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

Wales' first minister Mark Drakeford has not put any timescale on when the restrictions will be lifted, with the Six Nations set to start on February 5.

Scotland will formally review their measures on January 11, while France – where over 18,000 people were in hospital with COVID-19 as of December 30 – has imposed restrictions on travellers from the United Kingdom, with their government insisting that all sportspeople must be fully vaccinated by mid-January in order to enter the country.

Italy, likewise, is experiencing unprecedented levels of new recorded cases of the virus as the Omicron variant spreads across Europe.

But Wales fly-half Biggar believes banning spectators would be a frustrating move that will only damage the game.

"It would be a huge, huge step backwards if there are no crowds moving forwards for clubs and the Six Nations which is obviously such a showpiece event," he told reporters.

"You saw it in the autumn, getting crowds back. Everyone coming to games now has to have a passport, they'll be double or triple-jabbed, and it's an outdoor event so I don't see why they wouldn't be allowed in.

"As long as it's safe, that's the most important thing.

"I hope for an event like the Six Nations and for the game up and down the UK moving forward we get some sort of sensible outcome.

"As long as everyone is safe and jabbed then I think it makes sense to keep crowds in. I think you would have seen a different [Northampton against Harlequins] game if the stadium had been completely empty.

"We played a lot of games with no crowds but if you look at the first handful of games they almost felt like training games.

"It felt like it did not really matter whether you won or lost because it felt like a training match and like the intensity was knocked out of it. You lose any advantage of playing at home and bits and pieces like that.

"I think it would be a huge step backwards if crowds were to go. I think the rest of the lads in Wales are pretty frustrated with it. That's normal frustration isn't it?

"We are probably getting into different things with politics now but I think everything should be aligned."

Wales, the defending Six Nations champions, start their campaign against Ireland on February 5, with their first home game scheduled for February 12, against Scotland.

Inter forward Edin Dzeko has again tested positive for coronavirus, the club announced on Friday.

Dzeko was reportedly sent home as a precaution from Inter's first training session back following the mid-season break after exhibiting cold symptoms on Thursday.

It was not known at that time whether it was COVID-19, but Inter confirmed the following day that three players, including Dzeko, had tested positive for the virus.

Martin Satriano and Alex Cordaz make up the trio of coronavirus absentees, with the Serie A leaders stating the three players are already in self-isolation at home and following the government's health guidelines.

This is the second time Dzeko has contracted the virus, having tested positive in November 2020 when at Roma.

Dzeko has led the line effectively with Lautaro Martinez this campaign, scoring eight times and assisting three goals in 18 Serie A outings.

Indeed, the Bosnia-Herzegovina international has comfortably exceeded his expected goals (xG) total of 5.89, while only strike partner Martinez has found the net more often for Inter this season (11).

Inter head into early January in control of Serie A, sitting four points clear at the summit, with their next game against Bologna scheduled for next Thursday.

Australian batsman Travis Head has been ruled out of the fourth Ashes Test and returning a positive test for Covid-19.

Cricket Australia confirmed that the 28-year-old is asymptomatic and will not fly with the squad to Sydney on Friday for the fourth Ashes Test due to start at the SCG on January 5.

The remainder of the Australian squad, their families and the team's support staff have undergone PCR and RAT tests on Friday and are still planning to travel to Sydney on Friday.

A Cricket Australia spokesperson said: “As part of our testing procedures, we are PCR testing players, their families and our support staff daily. Unfortunately, Travis returned a positive Covid-19 result earlier today. Thankfully, he is asymptomatic at this stage. We anticipate that he will be available to play in the fifth men’s Ashes Test in Hobart.

“We are grateful to our exceptional medical staff for all the work they have done throughout this series and we will continue to work with and support the players, their families and staff from both teams.”

Mitchell Marsh, Nic Maddinson and Josh Inglis have joined the Australian squad as additional cover as a precautionary measure, although Usman Khawaja appears most likely to replace Head in the XI.

On Friday, there was a huge jump in confirmed Covid-19 cases in Sydney, were the fourth Test will be played, with 21,151 infections diagnosed up from 12,226 on Thursday.

The Boxing Day Test earlier this week was jeopardized after positive cases within the England camp, while Third Test match referee David Boon tested positive on Thursday.

Australia captain Pat Cummins missed the second Test in Adelaide after being a close contact of a confirmed Covid-19 case.

Head becomes the first player to miss a Test in the Ashes series due to testing positive as Covid-19 closes in on the series.

Draymond Green has questioned the NBA as he felt the Denver Nuggets will gain an advantage after the cancellation of their clash with the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors were set to face Denver in the second of a two-game showdown on Friday, but a coronavirus outbreak within Michael Malone's camp has forced the game to be called off.

The Nuggets were left without the necessary eight players for the clash to go ahead, while coach Malone entered the league's health and safety protocols on Thursday along with other staff members, including two assistant coaches, according to reports.

On the same day, forwards Jeff Green and Zeke Nnaji and guard Bones Hyland had also entered protocols, with injuries to several Nuggets players leaving them short-handed.

But Warriors forward Green, who was absent due to protocols for Tuesday's 89-86 loss to the Nuggets, was left frustrated by the postponement as he thinks his side will be disadvantaged by the decision.

"How do you continue to cancel games when you've implemented rules to prevent this from happening?" Green posted to Twitter. "Is that not a competitive advantage for other teams?

"The guys we didn't have due to the protocol list played no role in Tuesday's loss? Pick a side but don't straddle the fence.

"So when the game is rescheduled (which will probably take a day away from our "break"), we will play them at full strength... But they got to sneak a win when we weren't at full strength, only two days ago??? Let's make it make some sense here."

It is the 11th game to be postponed this season for coronavirus-related issues, though Green is worried about the scheduling issues it may cause.

The Golden State star added: "Not to mention, this will more than likely add a back to back to our schedule, which is also advantage Denver."

In Malone's absence, assistant coach David Adelman will reportedly serve as acting head coach for the Nuggets.

Malone is the seventh NBA coach to enter the protocols, joining Doc Rivers (Philadelphia), Frank Vogel (Lakers), Monty Williams (Phoenix), Billy Donovan (Chicago), Chauncey Billups (Portland) and Mark Daigneault (Oklahoma City).

The Warriors are next due to be in action against the Utah Jazz on Sunday when Denver face the Houston Rockets.

Diego Simeone and Antoine Griezmann are among five new positive cases of coronavirus at Atletico Madrid.

Midfielders Koke and Hector Herrera and Portugal star Joao Felix also returned positive results in the club's latest round of testing.

The Spanish champions said all five are asymptomatic and isolating at home.

COVID-19 infections have been recorded at several LaLiga clubs in recent days, with Barcelona having had 10 positive tests this week alone.

On Wednesday, Real Madrid confirmed Thibaut Courtois, Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde and Vinicius Junior had all tested positive for the virus, while Sevilla recorded five positives during the short mid-season break in Spain.

Valencia face Espanyol on Friday before most sides return to action on Sunday, with Atletico taking on high-flying neighbours Rayo Vallecano at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Another three Barcelona players have tested positive for COVID-19, the club confirmed on Thursday.

It means Barca have seen as many as 10 players return positive results this week alone.

Sergino Dest, Philippe Coutinho and Ez Abde are the latest to go into quarantine, with Barca's numbers dwindling ahead of Sunday's trip to Real Mallorca.

Dani Alves and Clement Lenglet were the first two to test positive on Monday, followed by Jordi Alba and Alex Balde the following day.

Ousmane Dembele, Samuel Umtiti and Gavi were then added to that list on Wednesday when they also returned positive tests.

As such, Barca look set to be without at least 10 players for their first match of 2022, leading to suggestions it could be called off.

However, Spanish league regulations make postponements rare even amid the worst COVID-19 outbreaks.

Teams will still have to play so long as they have 13 available players from their first and second teams.

Clubs must continue to adhere to the rule that dictates a minimum of seven players registered to the senior team are on the pitch at the same time.

But that minimum can drop to five players if teams have fewer than seven professionals available for selection.

The Ashes series match referee David Boon has tested positive for COVID-19, Cricket Australia has confirmed.

Boon will now miss the fourth Test, starting on January 5, but is expected to return to take charge of the fifth Test nine days later.

The official is fully vaccinated – including a booster shot – and is asymptomatic. He will quarantine in Melbourne for 10 days before travelling to Hobart, where the final Test is set to be held.

Steve Bernard will serve as the referee in Boon's absence.

Boon is not the only person to miss out on the fourth Test, with England coach Chris Silverwood finding himself in the same position after a close contact contracted coronavirus.

There were four positive COVID-19 cases in the England camp on the second day of the third Test, but none of the players were affected.

Australia have already secured the Ashes, having won each of the first three Tests comfortably to move into an unassailable 3-0 series lead.

Kyrie Irving admitted it has been tough to watch the Brooklyn Nets from the sidelines as he marked his return to the practice court on Wednesday.

Irving returned to Nets' practice for the first time since preseason after the franchise decided in October to make him unavailable due to New York City's vaccine mandate and his unvaccinated status.

The Nets reversed that decision a fortnight ago when they announced the 29-year-old would return on a part-time basis for away games, despite remaining unvaccinated, with the side short on numbers following a surge of players in the NBA's health and safety protocols.

Irving's return to the practice court was delayed by him entering protocols a day after the Nets' announcement earlier this month, but he has now been cleared.

"I'm incredibly grateful just to be back in the building," Irving told reporters speaking for the first time publicly since mid-October. "Welcomed back with open arms [from] my teammates, the whole organisation.

"I'm not going to lie, it has been relatively tough to watch from the sidelines with everything going on in the world. I know everybody is feeling it. Just praying for everybody to be healthy during these times."

Irving will only be permitted to play away games and head coach Steve Nash said he would need a couple of weeks to get into NBA-ready condition.

"If I get the opportunity to get on the court and play with my teammates, even if it is just on the road for away games, I am grateful for the opportunity," Irving said.

"I've missed so much time. It's my first day back around the block with the guys and it felt like it's been a long time.

"It's only been, what, three months or so, but it has felt like the days have been slowly crossed off the calendar while I am sitting at home. When I thought about [returning to practice] last night, I could barely sleep.

"I understood their [the Nets'] decision and respected it. I really had to sit back and think and try not to become too emotionally attached to what they were deciding to do. I had to really evaluate things and see it from their perspective, meaning the organisation, my teammates.

"I really empathised, and I understood their choice to say if you are not going to be fully vaccinated, then you can't be a full [participant]."

The Nets are currently top of the Eastern Conference with a 23-9 record and play the Philadelphia 76ers at the Barclays Center on Thursday, which Irving will be unavailable for.

Five of the Nets' next six games are at home.

England coach Chris Silverwood will miss the fourth Ashes Test after a family member of the touring party tested positive for coronavirus.

Silverwood's position has come under question after England's dismal form in Australia, with the hosts having already retained the urn by racing into a 3-0 series lead.

Defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide were followed by a capitulation in Melbourne this week, with the third Test not even lasting three days.

Silverwood will be unable to be in attendance for the fourth match of the Tour in Sydney, as England desperately search for a result in order to avoid a whitewash.

A family member who travelled to Australia has tested positive for COVID-19 in the latest round of PCR tests administered to the touring party, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) confirmed.

Silverwood will therefore have to isolate for 10 days, along with his family, in Melbourne. Another round of PCR tests will take place on Thursday.

The fourth Test is due to start at Sydney Cricket Ground on January 5, with the series finishing in Hobart after coronavirus regulations in Western Australia meant Perth was unable to host the final match.

NHL players who test positive for coronavirus and are fully vaccinated may only have to isolate for five days as part of changes to the league's health protocols.

Previously, any player or staff member to record a positive test would have to isolate for 10 days.

Outbreaks among teams this month caused the league to begin its Christmas break early and pause all games that involved cross-border travel between the United States and Canada.

However, following updated guidance from the USA's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the NHL and the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) agreed to modify regulations.

Players and team operations staff who test positive will now only have to isolate for five days, or, if they develop a fever, "until their fever resolves".

Asymptomatic individuals or those with improving symptoms will be cleared to return to practice and games if they provide a test that is either negative or falls within certain parameters.

They will also require medical clearance from team doctors and the permission of their local health authority. They must also wear a mask around others for another five days, except for during practice and games.

NHL medical experts will review the changes to the measures on or before January 12.

Thibaut Courtois has confirmed he is asymptomatic after returning a positive test result for COVID-19.

The Real Madrid goalkeeper, along with team-mates Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde and Vinicius Junior, was confirmed by Los Blancos to have tested positive in the latest round of testing.

LaLiga leaders Madrid have had to deal with several positive cases within their squad over recent weeks, and are likely to be without the four players for at least their opening matches of 2022, against Getafe and Alcoyano respectively.

While Valverde and Camavinga have made 15 LaLiga starts between them this season, goalkeeper Courtois has started every top-flight match and winger Vinicius has played in all 19 league fixtures, scoring 10 goals and providing four assists.

His 14 goal contributions in LaLiga is topped only by Karim Benzema (22) in Madrid's squad, and the Brazil international could be a big miss for Carlo Ancelotti, while Courtois' steady presence will also be absent.

"Unfortunately, and despite complying with all the measures, I have tested positive for COVID," wrote the Belgium goalkeeper on Twitter.

"Although I do not have any symptoms, I am at home following the corresponding protocol and training to return as soon as possible. Thank you all!"

SAFE HANDS

Courtois has played every minute for Madrid in all competitions so far in 2021-22, with back-up Andriy Lunin yet to make a single LaLiga appearance for Los Blancos across the last two seasons.

The Ukrainian was one of six Madrid players to test positive for COVID-19 last week, though should be in line to return from isolation in time to face Getafe on January 2.

Only Leicester City's Kasper Schmeichel (26) has made more appearances of goalkeepers in Europe's top five leagues than Courtois (25) this campaign.

Of shot-stoppers to play at least 20 times, only Yassine Bounou (Sevilla) and Edouard Mendy (Chelsea) – both 15 – have conceded fewer goals than Courtois' tally of 19.

In LaLiga, Courtois concedes 0.84 goals per 90 minutes played, ranking him third out of goalkeepers to have featured at least 10 times in Spain's top flight this season.

Courtois' save percentage of 78.41, meanwhile, leads the way in Europe's top five leagues, out of goalkeepers to have played 20 games or more across all competitions, ahead of Mendy (77.61), and the former Chelsea man has made only one error leading to a shot, with that mistake not resulting in a goal.

Thibaut Courtois, Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde and Vinicius Junior have all tested positive for COVID-19, Real Madrid have confirmed.

LaLiga leaders Madrid have had to deal with several positive cases within their squad over recent weeks, and are likely to be without another four players for at least their two opening matches of 2022.

Madrid issued a short statement on Wednesday confirming Courtois, Camavinga, Valverde and Vinicius were the latest players to test positive.

Los Blancos face Getafe in LaLiga on January 2, before travelling to Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey three days later.

David Alaba and Isco were confirmed to have tested positive for coronavirus on December 21, taking the total of Madrid players to have contracted the illness to eight in the space of a week.

Luka Modric and Marcelo had gone into quarantine after routine testing on December 15, and Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, Rodrygo and Andriy Lunin then tested positive the following day, along with Carlo Ancelotti's son and technical assistant Davide.

While Valverde and Camavinga have made 15 LaLiga starts between them this season, goalkeeper Courtois has started every top-flight match and winger Vinicius has played in all 19 league fixtures, scoring 10 goals and providing four assists.

His 14 goal contributions in LaLiga is topped only by Karim Benzema (22) in Madrid's squad, and the Brazil international could be a big miss for Ancelotti.

Madrid will be hoping to welcome back the players in time for their home match against Valencia on January 8.

World number one Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the ATP Cup in Sydney amid ongoing uncertainty over his title defence at next month's Australian Open.

Djokovic has not yet confirmed his place at January's Grand Slam due to the COVID-19 mandate in Victoria.

The 34-year-old's father, Srdjan, has previously said that the nine-time Australian Open champion is unlikely to feature in Melbourne unless vaccination rules are relaxed.

World number 33 Dusan Lajovic will now lead the Serbia team at the ATP Cup.

Meanwhile, Austria have been replaced by France at the event following the withdrawals of Dominic Thiem and Dennis Novak. The French will be led by world number 35 Ugo Humbert, alongside Arthur Rinderknech, Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Fabrice Martin.

Russia's Andrey Rublev, Aslan Karatsev and Evgeny Donskoy have withdrawn, with Evgeny Karlovskiy joining the team, while Team USA's Austin Krajicek has also pulled out.

The ATP Cup will begin on New Year's Day at both Ken Rosewall Arena and Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney Olympic Park.

Barcelona have confirmed Ousmane Dembele, Samuel Umtiti and Gavi have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Blaugrana were previously hit with positives for Clement Lenglet, Dani Alves, Jordi Alba and Alejandro Balde in the past week.

A statement on the club's website on Wednesday read: "The footballers Dembele, Umtiti and Gavi are positive for COVID-19 after PCR tests on the squad. 

"The players are in good health and self-isolating at home. The club has reported the cases to the relevant authorities."

Umtiti has largely been out of favour at Camp Nou this season, playing just once across all competitions, while Dembele has only managed eight appearances (four starts) having spent a significant period out through injury.

Gavi is the club's third-highest appearance maker in this campaign, though, with the 17-year-old midfielder playing 22 times, 17 of which have been starts. Only Sergio Busquets has featured more often.

The Blaugrana sit in seventh place in LaLiga, two points off fourth and 18 behind leaders Real Madrid, and travel to face Real Mallorca next on January 2.

The Brooklyn Nets can count on Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge again after they were cleared to return from NBA health and safety protocols.

Durant, who was in a rich vein of form, has sat out the Nets' previous three games, while Aldridge has not featured in the past five.

They could be back on court for Thursday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Barclays Center, the first of a run of three at home for the Nets.

Kyrie Irving has also been released from the shackles of the same COVID-19 protocols, the NBA said on its official website.

Because Irving is unvaccinated and cannot play home games due to local restrictions in New York City, his return to action must wait.

Irving has not played all season but could be in the frame to be involved in the trip to the Indiana Pacers on January 5 or at the Chicago Bulls a week later.

The Nets lead the way in the Eastern Conference with a 23-9 record, after following up a Christmas Day win over the Los Angeles Lakers by beating the Clippers on Monday.

 

James Harden, freshly out of protocols, played lead roles in both those wins with hauls of 36 and 39 points, and now he is set to have elite support.

Durant leads the Nets in scoring this season with an average of 29.7 points per game, alongside 7.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists. 

The Nets have had three recent games postponed due to their roster being hard hit by absentees.

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