Alan Hubbard

A happy and prosperous New Year? Well, let's hope so but COVID continues to wage war relentlessly on our fun and games.

In the UK, dozens of football matches from the Premier League downwards - the Carabao Cup first leg semi-final between Arsenal and Liverpool being the latest - have been called off, victims of COVID and in their wisdom the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) have suspended all tournaments scheduled for this month apparently on advice from the medics.

It is inevitable that in the third year of the pandemic the prospect of major international sports events scheduled for the coming months will be viewed with some trepidation.

First up are the Winter Olympics and Paralympics booked for Beijing, the Chinese capital. Yet there is no indication of a fallout but it does seem ominous that last weekend China imposed a lockdown on a major city far from the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic. 

This added to a deepening concern about the potential for the virus to spread as Governments around the world closed their borders to people from China.

In an attempt to contain the virus, the Chinese Government took action in the eastern city of Wenzhou some 800 kilometres from Wuhan, the metropolis at the heart of the emergency, closing roads and confining residents to their homes.

With other cities, including one where there has been only three cases, all non-fatal, is one of the cities either in lockdown or suffering severe restrictions there has to be concern about what might happen should there be a massive outbreak of the virus in or around Beijing before or during the Games. 

However as of yesterday all those connected with the event - competitors, officials, dignitaries and those diplomats whose Governments will permit them to attend, as well as journalists, must enter a bubble from which they cannot emerge until the completion of the Games.

Worrying as the epidemic continues to be it seems more likely that the Chinese Government will be at least just as concerned about boycotts, demonstrations or podium protests over human rights issues, of which there are many in China.

Our columnist says he hopes the sporting calendar of 2022, set to feature events including the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games does not suffer too much disruption from coronavirus ©Getty Images
Our columnist says he hopes the sporting calendar of 2022, set to feature events including the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games does not suffer too much disruption from coronavirus ©Getty Images

No doubt the residents of Birmingham will be keeping an anxious eye on how Beijing copes with any COVID crisis, while hoping that Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds his nerve and does not impose more restrictions before the Commonwealth Games this summer.

As Christmas approaches the probability is that COVID, or one of its Omicron-like variables will still be in evidence as football’s World Cup reaches its conclusion in a sweltering Qatar, a tiny but extremely rich nation where dissent, demos and homosexuality are outlawed. Just like the IOC, FIFA does not seem particularly choosy about the company it keeps.

Of course it is hard to predict what effect the pandemic will continue to have on sport but I will be surprised if it is less than substantial. Which makes it even more surprising that Australia, a country quick to clamp down on its citizens during the current situation, is bending the rules to allow the apparently non-jabbed Novak Djokovic to take his place as the principal attraction in the Australian Open tennis tournament.

Which brings us back to boxing and the very curious decision by the BBBofC to ban professional fisticuffs at least until next month. They insist it is on advice from the medics so maybe they know something Boris doesn’t!

It involved a contest between Chris Eubank Junior and Welshman Liam Williams, originally scheduled for December 11, but now postponed again until February 5 in Cardiff.

The other bout was due to feature the Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Joe Joyce, now unbeaten as a pro heavyweight, in London. But Joyce has a training injury and would have been unable to fight this month anyway.

However there will be one British boxer in action this month when Callum Johnson bids for the World Boxing Council world light heavyweight title against New York holder Joe Smith Junior, in Verona, United States.

The contest can be seen in the UK on BT Sport and should Johnson win he will become the 150th fighter guided by Frank Warren to a World Championship. It is a tough ask for the 36 year-old but at least he has a fighting chance.

Our New Year wish is that sport has the same in its battle with COVID.