Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo has reportedly been cleared from the NBA's health and safety protocols.

Finals MVP Antetokounmpo entered the league's COVID-19 protocols on December 15 and has missed five games. 

According to ESPN, he will decide on Friday whether he is fit enough to feature in the Bucks' clash with the Boston Celtics on Christmas Day.

Antetokounmpo has been averaging 27.0 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game for the defending champions this season.

He is shooting 53.0 per cent from the field – his lowest number since the 2017-18 season, and 28.0 per cent from three-point range.

The Bucks (21-13) are third in the Eastern Conference, behind the Brooklyn Nets (21-9) and Chicago Bulls (19-10).

Brooklyn Nets trio James Harden, Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter have cleared COVID-19 protocols ahead of their Christmas Day game against the struggling Los Angeles Lakers.

Harden entered protocols early last week, leaving the Nets depleted with Kevin Durant also among those sidelined, leading to three Brooklyn games being postponed.

Nets head coach Steve Nash revealed that Cam Thomas, Kessler Edwards and David Duke Jr had all entered protocols, totalling 13 Brooklyn players since 13 December, but added they would have enough to face the Lakers on Saturday.

"James Harden, Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter are out of protocols," Nash told reporters on Thursday. "The plan is to fly to Los Angeles tomorrow and play on Christmas.

"There were a few days we had to shut everything down out of precaution. It's started back up yesterday and today with guys back on the court in isolation.

"It's tricky, we haven't been able to do a lot. We'll continue to adapt as the rules and mandates come in."

The Nets have a 21-9 record to be top of the Eastern Conference but have not played since 18 December.

Alexander Zverev believes he will form a big three with Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev in 2022 but hopes he will not get the chance to become world number one at the Australian Open.

The German is knocking on the door near the top of the rankings after a fine year that saw him win six titles, including the season-ending ATP Finals in Turin and an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo.

Zverev, currently ranked third, could go top of the rankings if he wins the Australian Open, which starts next month, but that is only possible if current world number one Djokovic does not play.

And Zverev is hopeful the Serbian will take part despite continued uncertainty over his participation in the tournament amid intense debate over his COVID-19 vaccine stance.

Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open winner, is yet to disclose his vaccination status.

Tournament chief Craig Tiley said this week he is still hoping to see the tour's top player participate if he meets the required conditions, which are either being vaccinated or having a medical exemption.

"The situation with Novak and Australia is still a big question mark," Zverev said in a podcast appearance with Eurosport Germany. 

"Of course, I hope that he will be allowed to play, that is very clear.

"There are thousands of mathematical calculations, if he doesn't play Australia and I win the Australian Open, then I'm number one in the world and so on and so forth.

"At the end of the day, now is not the time to think about [being world number one]. Now is the time to prepare as best as you can so you're physically able to play for it."

As well as his silverware, Zverev made the last four of the French Open and US Open, and the 24-year-old believes his experience has begun to come to the fore.

Zverev had a 59-15 record this season and recorded at least one victory against every other player inside the top 10 of the ATP year-end rankings.

"I've become much calmer and I'm also getting older," he added.

"I'm not 18 or 19 anymore. I understand maybe a bit more things about life and understand that you just have to keep calm in important situations. That has had its effect on me this year.

"I think next year could be very similar to the last six months from this year.

"Before, there used to be always talk about Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – now the big titles were the Olympics, US Open, Turin and Wimbledon, and they were all won by Medvedev, Djokovic and me. 

"I don't expect it to be any different next year."

Alexander Zverev believes he will form a big three with Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev in 2022 but hopes he will not get the chance to become world number one at the Australian Open.

The German is knocking on the door near the top of the rankings after a fine year that saw him win six titles, including the season-ending ATP Finals in Turin and an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo.

Zverev, currently ranked third, could go top of the rankings if he wins the Australian Open, which starts next month, but that is only possible if current world number one Djokovic does not play.

And Zverev is hopeful the Serbian will take part despite continued uncertainty over his participation in the tournament amid intense debate over his COVID-19 vaccine stance.

Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open winner, is yet to disclose his vaccination status.

Tournament chief Craig Tiley said this week he is still hoping to see the tour's top player participate if he meets the required conditions, which are either being vaccinated or having a medical exemption.

"The situation with Novak and Australia is still a big question mark," Zverev said in a podcast appearance with Eurosport Germany. 

"Of course, I hope that he will be allowed to play, that is very clear.

"There are thousands of mathematical calculations, if he doesn't play Australia and I win the Australian Open, then I'm number one in the world and so on and so forth.

"At the end of the day, now is not the time to think about [being world number one]. Now is the time to prepare as best as you can so you're physically able to play for it."

As well as his silverware, Zverev made the last four of the French Open and US Open, and the 24-year-old believes his experience has begun to come to the fore.

Zverev had a 59-15 record this season and recorded at least one victory against every other player inside the top 10 of the ATP year-end rankings.

"I've become much calmer and I'm also getting older," he added.

"I'm not 18 or 19 anymore. I understand maybe a bit more things about life and understand that you just have to keep calm in important situations. That has had its effect on me this year.

"I think next year could be very similar to the last six months from this year.

"Before, there used to be always talk about Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – now the big titles were the Olympics, US Open, Turin and Wimbledon, and they were all won by Medvedev, Djokovic and me. 

"I don't expect it to be any different next year."

Celtic's clash with Rangers on January 2 has been postponed by a month after Scottish Premiership clubs voted in favour of bringing forward the mid-season break.

Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday that all outdoor events in the country would be limited to 500 spectators for at least three weeks from December 26 amid a rise in coronavirus cases.

That would have meant the first Old Firm derby of 2022 practically being held behind closed doors, but there is hope that restrictions will be eased – or entirely lifted – by the time the Glasgow rivals meet in the rescheduled fixture on February 2.

Scottish Premierships teams will now start their three-week break after the Boxing Day round of fixtures, rather than on January 3, and the league will resume on January 17.

Games that were due to be played on December 29 and January 2-3, which also includes the Edinburgh and Dundee derbies, have been moved to January 17-18 and February 1-2 respectively.

Neil Doncaster, SPFL chief executive, said in a statement released on Wednesday: "We have had intense and positive discussions with all cinch SPFL clubs over the past 24 hours, since the announcement by the Scottish government of a three-week period of restrictions on fans attending matches. 

"We have advised our clubs that any postponements increase the risk of further disruption to an already highly congested fixture calendar.

"There are mixed views amongst cinch Premiership clubs about what to do for the best. However, a majority favour the postponement of fixtures to give a chance for games scheduled to be played over the festive period to be played in front of fans, once the three-week period of restrictions comes to an end. 

"The SPFL Board has agreed to postpone the 29 December and New Year Premiership fixture cards.

"Championship, League 1 and League 2 clubs voted to continue playing through the government restrictions and we look forward to their festive fixtures over the next fortnight.

"We would like to place on record our sincere thanks to Sky Sports and Police Scotland for their flexibility in accommodating these changes and to all cinch SPFL clubs for their clear, positive and constructive feedback as we work together to get through the challenges posed by COVID-19."

Australian Open chief Craig Tiley wants Novak Djokovic to participate in Melbourne but will not ask the world number one to disclose any medical reason he has for being unvaccinated against COVID-19.

The first grand slam of 2022 begins on January 17, but it is unclear if reigning champion Djokovic will be competing.

The Serbian, a nine-time Australian Open winner, is yet to disclose his vaccination status.

Following guidance from the Victoria state government, all players, staff and spectators at Melbourne Park must have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus or hold a medical exemption.

Djokovic has been named on the list for the draw and is also due to represent Serbia at the ATP Cup in Sydney, which runs from January 1 to 9.

"If Novak shows up, he'll be vaccinated or have a medical exemption," Australian Open chief executive Tiley told the Australian Associated Press.

"If any player, fan [or] workforce is on site here, you're either vaccinated or you have a medical exemption that's approved and you're on the Australian Immunisation Register.

"That provides us with safety and an extra level of comfort on site.

"We want to have the best players here; I'd love to have Novak here. If he meets those conditions then great, if not, it's disappointing."

Tiley added he does not expect Djokovic to reveal any medical reason for which he may not have received the vaccine, should he receive a medical exemption to feature in the tournament.

"Medically, he doesn't talk to anyone about it. I'm not going to ask Novak that, it's none of my business," Tiley continued.

"[It's] his choice on his medical condition, it's his choice to keep personal and private like all of us would do with any condition we may or may not have. We are not going to force him or ask him to disclose that.

"[If he is here] I will know that he fulfils one of those conditions."

Rafael Nadal is set to play in Melbourne, though that is in doubt after the Spaniard tested positive for COVID-19 this week, following his appearance at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Dubai.

Tiley, however, believes Nadal will have recovered in time.

"I'm confident Rafa will be here," said Tiley. "Players that are testing positive now will complete a period of time until they are no longer infectious and they will be fine.

"If you are going to test positive and you want to play the Australian Open, your timing would be now."

Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Belinda Bencic has tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of next month's Australian Open and is experiencing "severe" symptoms.

World number 23 Bencic returned a positive test, along with Ons Jabeur, after competing at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi.

The pair are the third and fourth players to have tested positive after travelling to the Abu Dhabi event, following 2021 US Open winner Emma Raducanu and 20-time major winner Rafael Nadal.

Bencic wrote on Twitter: "Unfortunately and even though I am fully vaccinated, I recently tested positive for Covid-19.

"I am currently isolating and taking all precautionary [measures] to get through this as best as possible as I am experiencing quite severe symptoms (fever, aches, chills)."

The Mubadala World Tennis Championship typically serves as a warm-up event prior to the Australian Open which is due to begin on January 17 in Melbourne.

World number 10 Jabeur, who defeated Bencic in Abu Dhabi, is experiencing "strong symptoms" and isolating in her native Tunisia.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the league has no plans to pause its season despite the recent surge in COVID-19 cases across teams.

The league has been forced to postpone a total of five games, including three that were set to be played on Sunday, due to rising COVID-19 cases.

The National Hockey League announced on Monday it would take its Christmas break early amid similar challenges but Silver said the NBA did not have those plans.

"No plans right now to pause the season," Silver told NBA Today. "We have of course looked at all the options, but frankly we are having trouble coming up with what the logic would be behind pausing right now.

"As we look through these cases literally ripping through the country, let alone the rest of the world, I think we're finding ourselves where we sort of knew we were going to get to over the past several months, and that is this virus will not be eradicated, and we're going to have to learn to live with it. I think that's what we're experiencing in the league right now."

Numerous big names in the NBA have been forced into the league's health and safety protocols due to COVID-19 lately including Kevin Durant, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The NBA had sent a memo to teams on Sunday announcing new rules permitting replacement players who can be added upon losing players to protocols.

However, Silver said the league would not waver just yet on the requirements for protocols, with players who test positive needing to sit out for 10 days or until they get two negative PCR tests taken more than 24 hours apart.

"That's something, again, that it's not just our doctors but the medical community is looking at," he said. "I think they're already realising that you can move away from the 10-day protocol when you have players who are vaccinated and boosted.

"It seems the virus runs through their systems faster. They become not just asymptomatic but, more importantly, they're not shedding the virus anymore. That's the real concern in terms of others. And so we are actively looking at shortening the number of days players are out before they can return to the floor."

On the integrity of clubs experiencing outbreaks being forced to play on and hurriedly sign replacement players, Silver added: "I think there's a recognition that these are the cards that we've been dealt.

"Of course there's an amount of unfairness that comes with playing in certain cases with some teams where particular players are out because of COVID protocols, but the other advantage is we do have an 82-game season and we do have a long playoffs, and my sense is things will work out by the end of the season."

Udinese's Serie A clash with Salernitana did not take place on Tuesday after the visitors failed to turn up at the Dacia Arena.

It was already known that bottom side Salernitana would not make the trip after they were ordered not to travel by the local health authority due to a number of positive coronavirus cases in the squad.

Udinese, however, undertook their normal matchday routine and even named their starting XI.

Udinese director Pierpaolo Marino told DAZN: "The league is right not to postpone the game. They have a duty to protect the regularity of the league season and a game must not be postponed because a player tests positive.

"We went to Rome to play Lazio with seven players and our coach out with COVID-19 last season, and we won 3-1."

A similar situation happened last season when Napoli failed to turn up to face Juventus, with the Partenopei forced to forfeit the match.

Napoli subsequently won an appeal and the match was replayed.

Real Madrid have confirmed David Alaba and Isco returned positive tests for COVID-19.

The duo are the latest Madrid players to contract the virus, taking the total to eight in the space of a week.

Los Blancos revealed last Wednesday that Luka Modric and Marcelo had gone into quarantine after routine testing determined they had the illness.

Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, Rodrygo and Andriy Lunin then tested positive the following day, along with Carlo Ancelotti's son and technical assistant Davide.

All are absent for Madrid's scheduled trip to San Mames to face Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.

Ancelotti's side are six points clear at the top of LaLiga, having collected 43 points from their first 18 matches, but second-placed Sevilla can close the gap when they face Barcelona on Tuesday.

The National Hockey League will begin its Christmas break early due to coronavirus-related postponements. 

The league announced Monday that it will pause games for five days beginning Wednesday, with the schedule set to resume December 27. 

With that move, the final games before the break are set for Tuesday, with the Washington Capitals visiting the Philadelphia Flyers and the Vegas Golden Knights hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The other eight games set to be played Tuesday already had been postponed due to COVID-19. 

Four of the five games scheduled for Monday also were postponed, with only the Dallas Stars-Minnesota Wild game taking place. 

The early break will officially wipe out all 19 games scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, all but five of which already had been called off. 

Players are now set to report back to their teams on December 26 for testing, practice and travel. All members of a team's travelling party must have a negative COVID-19 test before entering a team facility upon return. 

Monday's decision came a day after the league said it would pause all games that involved cross-border travel between the United States and Canada, in addition to multiple individual teams being shut down due to positive COVID-19 tests. 

"With the number one priority of maintaining the health and safety of our NHL community, and amid changing and unpredictable conditions, we are determined to remain flexible and adaptable both in terms of scheduling and in adjusting protocols as necessary," the league said in a statement Sunday.   

 

 

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens have taken the number of NHL teams to shut down through the holiday break to nine due to coronavirus concerns.

It was announced by the league on Monday that the Blues Jackets' games against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday and Thursday had been postponed.

The Canadiens' games prior to the break had already been called off amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, with a total of 42 games now having been postponed this season.

Developments involving Columbus and Montreal came a day after the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs also shut down through the holiday break.

The Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers had already announced shut-downs.

Cross-border games between the United States and Canadian teams have been postponed through the holiday break due to the concern about travel been the two countries and "the fluid nature of federal travel restrictions".

The NHL and National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) are also discussing the matter of player participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

A decision is expected to be announced in the coming days. 

The league has until January 10 to pull out of the Winter Games without being penalised financially, but it retains the right to cancel its plans up until players are scheduled to travel to Beijing in early February.

No spectators will be allowed in to watch India's tour of South Africa due to a soaring number of coronavirus cases.

Six days before the Test series starts at Supersport Park, Cricket South Africa (CSA) revealed matches will be staged behind closed doors in order to protect the players.

The Proteas and India will play three Tests and as many ODIs without fans in attendance.

A CSA statement said: "Cricket South Africa (CSA) has noted the interests of cricket fans and other stakeholders on the scheduling and the release of the details of ticket sales, in connection with the forthcoming India vs Proteas tour that is scheduled to begin in less than a week.

"Regrettably, CSA wishes to inform the most ardent fans of cricket as well as all sports lovers that owing to the increasing COVID cases around the world, and the fourth wave locally, the two cricketing bodies have taken a joint decision to protect the players and the tour by NOT making tickets available for the India vs Proteas offerings.

"This decision was taken in order to avoid any breaches that could compromise the tour from a COVID-risk perspective and to also maintain a hazard-free bubble environment."

Pholetsi Moseki, the CSA acting chief executive officer, said: "We acknowledge the interest expressed by the fans and other stakeholders on being able to return to stadiums and want to assure all cricket fans that this decision was not taken lightly, but was instead taken in the best interest of the game and in the interest of the health and safety of all patrons.

"Consequently, we urge all sport lovers to exercise absolute care, during these extraordinary times.

"I also wish to take this time to urge all South Africans to continue spreading the positive messages of VACCINATION, VACCINATION AND VACCINATION, because this is the only way that we can truly get our country back into its high economic activity, which will assist government to open up the economy and all its forms of economic activity, including allowing greater numbers of fans back into stadiums."

 

Rafael Nadal has tested positive for coronavirus on his return to Spain, leaving his participation at the Australian Open in doubt.

The 20-time major champion played at the Mubadala Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi last weekend and declared his mission a success despite consecutive defeats on his return from a foot injury.

Indeed, Nadal had only competed in two matches since losing to Novak Djokovic in the French Open semi-finals in June before testing his long-term foot problem against Andy Murray and most recently Denis Shapovalov.

However, the 35-year-old's plans to feature in the Melbourne ATP 250 ahead of the Australian Open in early January have suffered a setback after he tested positive for COVID-19 upon landing in his home country on Monday.

Nadal revealed the news on Twitter as he posted: "I wanted to announce that on my return home after playing the Abu Dhabi tournament, I have tested positive for COVID in the PCR test that was performed on me when I arrived in Spain.

"Both in Kuwait and Abu Dhabi we passed controls every two days and all were negative, the last being on Friday and having the results on Saturday.

"I am having some unpleasant moments but I hope that I will improve little by little. I am now homebound and have reported the result to those who have been in contact with me.

"As a consequence of the situation, I have to have total flexibility with my calendar and I will analyse my options. I will keep you informed of any decisions about my future tournaments!"

Nadal was eyeing the Australian Open, which starts on January 17, as his first major comeback, though he earlier admitted his entry was not guaranteed as he evaluated his foot injury and physical fitness.

"I cannot guarantee Australia one hundred per cent, because I need to go home and see how the body responds after these days," Nadal told reporters on Saturday. 

"I have time to make a decision. At this point in my career, I need to go day by day, study each movement well.

"I have been able to show a competitive level against good players even without being in perfect condition. There are things to improve but looking at things with perspective it has been a positive tournament [in Abu Dhabi].

"The main objective is to be healthy enough to do the things that I need to do and aspire to the objectives that I have always had. The illusion and passion continue to exist."

The ATP Tour event in Melbourne, which would be Nadal's first such tournament since August, is due to start on January 3.

The National Hockey League (NHL) has postponed games between American and Canadian sides due to COVID-19 outbreaks, while players' participation at the 2022 Winter Olympics is in doubt.

The league announced on Sunday that 27 games had already been postponed as of the previous day, with the NHL and National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) jointly reporting at least 12 more games would be cancelled through to December 23.

That is due to the fixtures involving travel between the United States and Canada, as the league continues to make a decision on postponements and monitor the "enhanced prevention and detection measures" daily.

"Although there has been a recent increase in positive COVID test results among [layers, coaches and hockey staff, there have been a low number of positive cases that have resulted in concerning symptoms or serious illness," a league statement read. 

"Therefore, the NHLPA's and NHL's medical experts have determined that, with virtually all players and club hockey staff fully vaccinated, the need to temporarily shut down individual teams should continue to be made on a case-by-case basis. 

"With the number one priority of maintaining the health and safety of our NHL community, and amid changing and unpredictable conditions, we are determined to remain flexible and adaptable both in terms of scheduling and in adjusting protocols as necessary."

Six NHL teams have been forced to shut down in the past week as the Detroit Red Wings became the latest, joining the Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers.

The NHL and NHLPA are also actively discussing the matter of NHL player participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

A decision is expected to be announced in the coming days. 

The league has until January 10 to pull out of the Winter Games without being penalised financially, but it retains the right to cancel its plans up until players are scheduled to travel to Beijing in early February.

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