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COVID chaos: Kyrie Irving back in action for Brooklyn as COVID decimates US, UK sport

Kyrie Irving is rejoining the Brooklyn Nets, who need help and will settle for it on a part-time basis.

The Nets decided Friday that Irving would come back to practice and play in road games, even though he remains unable to play at home because he doesn’t meet New York City’s vaccine mandate.

The Nets originally determined that Irving wouldn’t play with them at all until he could play in all games. But worried about the heavy workload on Kevin Durant and short-handed with seven players unavailable because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the Nets figured they couldn’t pass up the chance to add the All-Star guard.

“We arrived at this decision with the full support of our players and after careful consideration of our current circumstances, including players missing games due to injuries and health and safety protocols,” general manager Sean Marks said in a statement. “We believe that the addition of Kyrie will not only make us a better team but allow us to more optimally balance the physical demand on the entire roster.”

Members of New York’s pro and college teams must be vaccinated against the coronavirus to be able to play in public arenas. Irving refused to get vaccinated and hasn’t practiced with the Nets since October.

Given that layoff, it’s unclear how soon he will be ready to play. But the Nets, despite leading the Eastern Conference with a 21-8 record, are in need of healthy bodies.

Starters James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre’ Bembry are in health and safety protocols, along with Paul Millsap, Bruce Brown, James Johnson and Jevon Carter.

It’s forced Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer, to play far more minutes than the Nets would like. Coach Steve Nash said Thursday he wanted to get him rest, and the Nets have said Durant will rest a sore right ankle Saturday against Orlando in the opening night of a back-to-back.

Kevin Durant and Patty Mills have had to carry a big load.
Camera IconKevin Durant and Patty Mills have had to carry a big load. Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images

The Nets figure to face some criticism for bringing Irving back now, as coronavirus cases rise and more players are testing positive and being forced into protocols.

But with Harden still struggling at times after a hamstring injury in the playoffs, the Nets have been unable to come close to the offense that last season was one of the NBA’s most potent. Irving, who averaged 26.9 points last season, should help get them back close to it.

He will still have to sit out road games against the New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors unless he is vaccinated, but the Nets will be able to have him for everything else as long as he continues to test negative.

Irving is allowed to practice at home, as the Nets’ training facility was deemed a private venue.

Irving will face stricter rules if he remains an unvaccinated player, though additional mask-wearing and testing are returning anyway later this month.

It comes as world sport is continuing to reel from the surge in COVID-19 cases with international competitions affected as countries react to the virus.

As Europe’s top soccer leagues prepare to wind down for a short winter break, England’s Premier League is looking to go full steam ahead over the busy festive period but nine scheduled matches have been postponed so far this week due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Only half of the weekend’s games will go ahead even as many managers sought clarity on what the threshold for postponing games was and questioned whether the integrity of the competition was at stake with so many players missing.

The Premier League only grants a postponement if a club has fewer than 14 players available, with the board examining requests on a case-by-case basis.

Title contenders Chelsea and Liverpool had key players missing on Thursday while Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola cancelled his news conference on Friday after returning an inconclusive COVID test.

Guardiola has since been cleared to travel with the Manchester City squad to Newcastle for Sunday’s Premier League game.

Pep Guardiola.
Camera IconPep Guardiola. Credit: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

So far the Premier League and the lower divisions – with 19 English Football League weekend games postponed – have been severely affected with several outbreaks at clubs as Britain reported a new high of 93,045 COVID-19 infections on Friday.

The Women’s Super League game between Chelsea and West Ham United on Sunday was postponed due to a virus outbreak in the Blues squad while Manchester City’s game against Reading was also called off.

The WSL winter break is due to start following Sunday’s games, with play resuming again on January 7.

Outbreaks in North American sports leagues have also forced the NFL and NBA to postpone games and update their COVID protocols for the holiday season with individuals required to mask up regardless of their vaccination status.

The NFL postponed games for the first time all season with the Cleveland Browns, who were set to face the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday, now hosting the game on Monday.

The Seattle Seahawks-Los Angeles Rams and Washington Football Team-Philadelphia Eagles games that were originally scheduled to be played on Sunday will now go ahead on Tuesday.

The NHL, which agreed to a break in its schedule to make way for players to compete at the Winter Olympics in February, postponed its 11th game of the season on Friday.

All games for Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers have been postponed through to the Christmas weekend at least amid worsening COVID-19 test results across the league

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