The Omicron variant of Covid-19 could derail the upcoming sports calendar, having already been the cause of chaos over the weekend.
The strain, prominent in Southern Africa but also appearing elsewhere, has put governments across the world on red alert. And sports organisations are no different.
International sports events in the southern hemisphere are prominent at this time of year, since it is their summer. So in the hands of Omicron, where does sport stand?
Omicron closing in?
With travel bans imposed on South Africa in recent days, the Joberg Open, the first event in the rebranded DP World Tour, was hit with withdrawals as golfers tried to return home before various cut-off dates.
South African Thirston Lawrence won the competition, which was reduced to 36 holes through Covid-19 and bad weather.
Other planned golf events in the country, such as the South African Open Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Championship, have been dramatically altered structurally or cancelled altogether.
In a statement, the Alfred Dunhill Championship said: “The 2021 Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek has unfortunately been cancelled following news that South Africa has been placed on the travel red list of several countries, after concerns about the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant in the country.
“The decision was taken after consultation with the tours because of the adverse effect the travel restriction would have on the participation of professional golfers.”
Elsewhere in the country, South African clubs due to host United Rugby Championship fixtures this weekend had them cancelled.
Irish club Munster and Welsh side Cardiff remained stuck in South Africa on Sunday after positive Covid-19 cases thwarted attempts to charter a plane back to Europe.
Both sides will now need to isolate until players test negative, and then upon their return to the British Isles.
Fellow Welsh side Scarlets have made it back to Britain after returning a negative series of tests and being able to charter a flight.
Furthermore, the Netherlands cricket team’s one-day tour of South Africa has been postponed due to the concerns surrounding the variant.
Closer to home, the Barbarians’ match against Samoa at Twickenham was cancelled due to Covid-19 cases in the Baa-Baas’ camp.
The match was held in south-west London a week after England hosted South Africa at the same ground.
It is clear that schedules are being interrupted across multiple sports, and going forward, there are events which could be jeopardised.
Ashes up in flames?
This year’s Ashes series, which starts next month, could be under threat following the variant leaving continental Africa.
Prior to England’s departure to Australia, the team were reluctant to travel without their families for the two-month-long tour.
In light of the new variant, Australia could reimpose its tight restrictions once more – making international and domestic travel much more difficult.
The fifth, and potentially deciding, Test will be held in Perth. Western Australia has seen some of the toughest restrictions inside the country, and the chief executive for the state’s cricket organisation, Christina Matthews, has issued a stark warning over the possibility of the Test being cancelled.
“I’d probably say at the moment I’m 50/50,” she said. “I’d gone as high as 97 per cent but I’ve gone back to 50/50. We’ll wait and see.”
The Test could be relocated, with a day-night match in Melbourne being touted as an option.
Though there are yet no plans for the series to be cancelled, Australia’s lockdown history combined with the new variant could cause havoc to the competition.
Omicron has already spread to Europe, including Britain, and Asia. Until the severity of the strain can be identified and controlled, the sporting landscape could return to its desolate, eerie Covid-19 state once more.