Dec 14, 2021 - Sports

Omicron threatens to massively disrupt sports world

Illustration of a wave looming over a stadium

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

COVID is affecting the sports world in ways not seen since before the vaccine became widely available.

Why it matters: These recent disruptions may portend a fifth wave of the pandemic, spurred on by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

  • NBA: The Bulls on Monday became the first NBA team to have games postponed this season (today against the Pistons, Thursday against the Raptors) as they deal with an outbreak that's already landed 10 players in COVID protocols.
  • NHL: The league on Monday postponed Calgary's next three games after six players and a staffer landed in protocols. The Flames join the Senators and Islanders as the third team this season with a postponement.
  • NFL: A record 37 players tested positive on Monday after a weekend that saw at least a dozen other players miss games due to COVID protocols.
  • European soccer: At least five Premier League teams are dealing with outbreaks a week after Tottenham's outbreak led the league to reinstate emergency COVID measures. Germany's Bundesliga, meanwhile, is limiting crowd capacity amid rising cases.
  • College sports: Tulane's men's basketball team is temporarily shutting down amid an outbreak, with all three games this week postponed.
  • Tennis: Emma Raducanu, the reigning U.S. Open champ who last week was named WTA's Newcomer of the Year, tested positive and is out of this week's event in Abu Dhabi.

The big picture: When the Delta variant hit over the summer, most vaccinated arms had been freshly jabbed, but Omicron's ascent comes as springtime vaccine effectiveness has begun waning.

  • While it's good news that Omicron appears to cause less severe illness than Delta, the new variant is over four times more transmissible, according to one Japanese study.
  • An infectious disease doctor in Canada estimates Ontario will have 10,000 daily Omicron cases by Dec. 31, and predicts the Ontario government will close NBA and NHL games to fans.

Between the lines: Boosters more than double effectiveness against Omicron, and leagues are taking notice:

The bottom line: "No one should be in any doubt," U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday. "There is a tidal wave of Omicron coming."

Go deeper: In a 2021 first, NBA postpones Bulls game

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