Novak Djokovic has not been granted any "special favour" for a medical exemption to play in the Australian Open, tournament director Craig Tiley insisted.

Djokovic announced on Tuesday that he was on his way to Melbourne for the first grand slam of 2022, a revelation that was met with a host of criticism.

The world number one has not openly addressed whether he has been vaccinated for COVID-19, but protocols in Australia require proof that competitors have been jabbed or have a medical exemption to feature at Melbourne Park.

The Serbian has been vocal in his opposition for vaccine mandates, calling for freedom across the world, and is now expected to be welcomed with a frosty reception by those in the country battling a surge in cases of the Omicron variant.

Tiley spoke on the matter, coinciding with confirmation from the Australian Open that the 34-year-old was set to compete, as he referenced the "fair and independent protocols" in granting exemptions.

The tournament director has since reiterated his defence over the decision to allow Djokovic to defend his title, and search for a record 21st singles grand slam triumph, as he insisted there had been no preferential treatment.

Tiley said on Australia's The Today Show: "There's been no special favour. There's been no special opportunity granted to Novak.

"As an organisation and as a sport, we've done what everyone else does and would do if they wanted to come to Australia and under certain conditions.

"And we have abided by those conditions and I know Australia's had the most comprehensive response to COVID of any nation in the world. And our governments have done everything they humanly possibly can to keep us safe.

"It's ultimately the decision of the medical experts and we follow that accordingly. In this case, Novak made that application.

"And like others, there's been 26 athletes and their primary support staff that have made applications and a handful of those have been granted by the panel.

"The conditions in which any tennis player comes in, no matter who they are, are conditions that have been put on tennis and put on anyone coming into Australia by the Australian government."

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal also sit with Djokovic on 20 major crowns, but the Swiss star is already ruled out of the tournament, which starts on January 17, through injury.

Nadal could yet compete after posting pictures showing he was in Melbourne as he continues to recover from a positive COVID-19 test in recent weeks.

Napoli head coach Luciano Spalletti will not be present on the touchline against Juventus after testing positive for COVID-19.

Spalletti's side have been ravaged by coronavirus issues over the mid-season break, leaving them somewhat short-handed for the trip to Turin on Thursday.

To make matters worse for the Naples outfit, their boss Spalletti returned a positive result for the virus on Tuesday that will keep him away from the Allianz Stadium as he heads into self-isolation.

On the same day, Napoli announced Mario Rui and fellow full-back Kevin Malcuit were isolating, while Andrea Petagna came into close contact with a positive case but was later given the all-clear.

That trio joins a host of stars within the Napoli ranks who will be absent for the clash with Massimiliano Allegri's side due to COVID-19 issues.

Hirving Lozano, who has featured in all of Napoli's 25 games in all competitions this term, was confirmed as unavailable last Tuesday after contracting the virus while back in Mexico.

Talisman Victor Osimhen, Fabian Ruiz and Eljif Elmas, all of whom are regular starters for the Serie A outfit, are also among the notable absentees ahead of the visit to the Bianconeri.

Reports in Italy suggest due to the ongoing situation at the club and across the country, the game could still yet be called off if local health authorities order Napoli to quarantine.

That would ban Spalletti's team from travelling to Juve and cancel the meeting between the two sides who sit third and fifth in Serie A respectively.

Jamie Murray has questioned why Novak Djokovic was granted special dispensation to compete at the Australian Open.

Seven-times grand slam doubles champion Murray was asked about the decision to grant Djokovic a medical exemption for the year's first grand slam tournament at Melbourne Park.

Players have been obliged to either prove they are vaccinated against COVID-19 or apply for an exemption, which tournament organisers said involved a "rigorous" process to prove eligibility.

World number one Djokovic is a nine-time Australian Open men's singles champion, yet it was unclear until Tuesday whether he would be allowed to play the event this year.

There has been early backlash to the decision to clear him, with Melbourne having been hit by multiple lockdowns during the pandemic and many believing only vaccinated players should be playing.

Murray, brother of Djokovic's long-time friend and rival Andy Murray, spoke after the Serbian was permitted to travel into Australia and said he doubted he would get the same treatment.

Asked about the situation in an ATP Cup news conference, Jamie Murray said: "I don't know what to say about that really. I think if it was me that wasn't vaccinated, I wouldn't be getting an exemption.

"But well done to him for getting cleared to come to Australia and compete."

 

Djokovic may wish to elaborate further on the factors behind him being given the green light to travel into the state of Victoria, and will doubtless face media questions about the situation once he arrives.

However, the 20-time grand slam winner has been unwilling to disclose his vaccination status until now, which suggests there is little prospect of him offering further medical insight at this stage.

Asked if he felt it was not a fair decision to exempt Djokovic, Jamie Murray added: "Whatever you want to say, that's the situation."

Murray, 35, was interrupted at that point by Great Britain captain Liam Broady, who said: "At the end of the day, you have to trust he has a valid reason for the medical exemption, that's all you can say about it really, isn't it."

However, Broady had no doubt Djokovic would play the Australian Open, which begins on January 17, and claimed it was a foregone conclusion.

In an Instagram story, Broady posted a screenshot of Djokovic's announcement, adding the remark: "The second AO announced there would be exemptions 8 weeks ago we all knew."

Novak Djokovic went through "rigorous" checks before being handed a medical exemption to compete at the Australian Open, tournament chiefs insisted.

A wave of criticism followed Djokovic's announcement that he was on his way to Melbourne for the season's first grand slam tournament.

The Serbian has not directly addressed whether he has been vaccinated against COVID-19, but players who compete at Melbourne Park either require proof they have been jabbed or an exemption.

He has spoken openly and critically about vaccine mandates, insisting there should be freedom of choice in all walks of life.

Many Australians on social media spoke out against the decision to welcome Djokovic into the country, predicting he could face a frosty reception while the country battles surging cases of the Omicron variant.

Djokovic will be bidding to win a 10th Australian Open title and a record 21st singles grand slam, more than any man in history.

The 34-year-old had his bags packed and was awaiting a flight at an airport when he broke the news of his trip to Australia on Tuesday.

Australian Open chiefs confirmed he had been granted permission to play, saying in a statement: "Novak Djokovic will compete at the Australian Open and is on his way to Australia.

"Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted followting a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts. One of those was the independent medical exemption review panel appointed by the Victorian Department of Health."

There has been no detail given of why Djokovic qualified for an exemption, and unless he is willing to disclose personal medical information it is set to remain that way.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said it remained the case that all involved with the tournament, from fans through to players, must be fully vaccinated or have an exemption permission allowing them to attend.

Tiley said: "Fair and independent protocols were established for assessing medical exemption applications that will enable us to ensure Australian Open 2022 is safe and enjoyable for everyone.

"Central to this process was that the decisions were made by independent medical experts and that every applicant was given due consideration."

Explaining the process of securing exemptions, the Australian Open indicated in its statement that Djokovic would not have been treated as a special case.

It pointed out that a government-appointed panel assessed all cases that got past the first stage of checks, and that "the process included the redaction of personal information to ensure privacy for all applicants".

This should mean Djokovic was not identifiable to those making the crucial decisions about whether he should be allowed to take part.

"The multi-step independent review process was designed to ensure the safety of everyone at the Australian Open," the tournament statement added.

Novak Djokovic has announced he will play at the Australian Open, revealing he has been given "exemption permission" to compete.

The world number one and nine-time champion in Melbourne has not declared whether he has been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

Australia has stringent rules about who should be allowed to enter the country, with tennis players needing to be either vaccinated or hold a medical exemption in order to play the grand slam tournament.

Serbian superstar Djokovic wrote on Instagram on Tuesday: "I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I'm heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let's go 2022!!"

Djokovic's message was accompanied by a picture of him at an airport, with a tennis racquet bag atop his luggage on a trolley, indicating he was ready to board his flight to Australia.

He told his followers: "Happy New Year, everybody! Wishing you all health, love, and happiness in every present moment and may you feel love and respect towards all beings on this wonderful planet."

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said on Sunday he expected defending champion Djokovic's status for the event to become clear within days. The grounds for Djokovic receiving an exemption have yet to be disclosed, and it is unclear whether they will ever be made public.

The 20-time grand slam winner withdrew from the ATP Cup in Sydney last week, begging questions of whether he would head to Australia at all, but now that appears to have been cleared up.

Djokovic has steadfastly refused to disclose whether he has been jabbed. His declaration that he has been given an exemption points to him not having been vaccinated.

The 34-year-old won in Melbourne last February and followed up by triumphing at the French Open and Wimbledon to join Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on 20 major titles.

Djokovic will be attempting to seize the outright lead by capturing a 21st slam, with the Australian Open running from January 17-30 at Melbourne Park.

He was on the same mission at the US Open but lost out to Daniil Medvedev in the New York final in September, as the Russian landed his first grand slam title at Flushing Meadows.

Medvedev was the man Djokovic beat in last year's Australian Open final, and is again expected to be a major challenger this time around.

Novak Djokovic has announced he will play at the Australian Open, revealing he has been given "exemption permission" to compete.

The world number one and nine-time champion in Melbourne has not declared whether he has been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

Australia has stringent rules about who should be allowed to enter the country, with tennis players needing to be either vaccinated or hold a medical exemption in order to play the grand slam tournament.

Serbian superstar Djokovic wrote on Instagram: "I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I'm heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let's go 2022!!"

Atletico Madrid confirmed Antoine Griezmann has been granted permission from health authorities to return to training.

Griezmann was among five to test positive for COVID-19 on December 30 along with coach Diego Simeone, Koke, Hector Herrera and Joao Felix.

All of them went into immediate isolation, with only Simeone being able to leave quarantine in time for Sunday's 2-0 LaLiga win over Rayo Vallecano.

But Griezmann has been cleared to return to the training pitch as well after his latest test came back negative, making his a case of "resolved infection".

An Atletico statement read: "Antoine Griezmann has received clearance from LaLiga to return to training.

"The French player represents a case of resolved infection that meets the conditions set by the Strategy for Early Detection, Surveillance and Control of COVID-19 of the Ministry of Health, dated December 19, 2021."

As such, Griezmann could potentially feature against Rayo Majadahonda in the Copa del Rey on Thursday.

Otherwise, he will hope to be involved away to Villarreal on Sunday.

Ferran Torres and Pedri have tested positive for COVID-19, Barcelona have confirmed.

The two Spain internationals are the latest in a spate of positive cases at the club.

Ahead of Sunday's 1-0 win at Real Mallorca, Barca were without 17 players and 10 of those were absent due to coronavirus.

But Monday's confirmation of Pedri and Torres also contracting the virus shows they are not out of the woods yet.

Barca's statement said the players were isolating at home and in "good health".

Nevertheless, new signing Torres was not available for selection yet anyway due to LaLiga salary cap rules preventing him from being registered until Barca offload players.

Similarly, Pedri was still on the road to recovery from a muscular injury that has plagued his season.

Both Pedri and Torres were among the 17 players considered unavailable for the win over Mallorca.

Barca are next in action on Wednesday when they face Linares in the Copa del Rey, before travelling to Granada in LaLiga on Saturday.

 

 

The Golden State Warriors are set to be bolstered by the return of Draymond Green after the All-Star forward cleared the NBA's health and safety protocols.

Green is eligible to play in Monday's home game against the Miami Heat having been sidelined since Christmas Day's win over the Phoenix Suns.

The 31-year-old entered protocols on December 27, missing the Warriors' past two games, including a narrow loss to the Denver Nuggets which led to him criticising the NBA's decision to postpone the reverse fixture.

The Warriors were set to face Denver in the second of a two-game showdown on Friday, but a coronavirus outbreak within Nuggets camp forced the game to be called off.

Green is averaging 8.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.4 steals per game this season.

Ronaldo has tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to miss Sunday's anniversary celebrations of Cruzeiro, the Brazilian club he recently bought.

The two-time Ballon d'Or winner, who top-scored in Brazil's 2002 World Cup triumph, has been experiencing mild symptoms of the coronavirus.

Ronaldo had been due to attend events marking Cruzeiro's 101st anniversary, but the 45-year-old former Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter striker was instead isolating.

His positive case was announced by the Brazilian club, who were acquired by Ronaldo, with the support of an investment bank, in December.

"Cruzeiro reports that this Sunday morning Ronaldo Nazario tested positive for COVID-19," the Campeonato Serie B club said.

"This makes it impossible for him to travel to Belo Horizonte today, as well as his presence in the commemorative actions for the club's anniversary.

"Ronaldo is doing well, with mild symptoms and, on medical advice, is now in rest and social isolation."

Ronaldo has been majority owner of Spanish club Real Valladolid since 2018 and serves as the Segunda Division team's president. He had been due to meet with representatives of Cruzeiro supporters on Sunday and was scheduled to appear at a news conference on Monday before taking ill.

He began his playing career at Cruzeiro as a teenage sensation before heading to Europe to join Dutch giants PSV after the 1994 World Cup.

Ronaldo wrote on Twitter: "Cruzeiro nation, this is not the way I wanted to spend this January 2 which is more than special for us.

"I had the greatest anticipation and everything was organised for this moment. But there are situations in life that are beyond our control and, unfortunately, last night I found myself in one of them. I started to feel bad, had a PCR and woke up today with a positive result for COVID-19.

"The most important thing is that I am vaccinated, I will follow the isolation protocols and, at the end of it, I hope to be 100 per cent recovered to resume my schedule.

"Our meeting was not cancelled, it was postponed due to circumstances. And I make a point of celebrating with you the anniversary of our club! It's just the beginning of our fight together! I count on you, count on me."

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley says it should become clear in "the coming days" if Novak Djokovic will defend his title at Melbourne Park this month.

Djokovic withdrew from the ATP Cup in Sydney last week and has not yet arrived in Melbourne for the first grand slam of the year.

Players must be vaccinated or have a medical exemption in order to play in the opening major of 2022 and Djokovic has refused to disclose whether he has been jabbed.

Tiley is unsure whether the world number one will go in search of a record 21st grand slam title at the Australian Open, which starts on January 17.

"We've still got a few charter flights coming in until the end of this week and then all the players will be here," he told the Nine Network.

"As far as the status relates to Novak, I think we'll have a much clearer picture in the coming days otherwise it's getting pretty late to show up and play the Australian Open."

He added: "There's quite a bit to play out and I think it will play out in the coming days."

Djokovic has won the Australian Open men's singles title a record nine times and beat Daniil Medvedev in the 2021 final. 

Lionel Messi has tested positive for COVID-19, Paris Saint-Germain have announced.

The Argentine forward and seven-time Ballon d'Or winner will miss the Coupe de France game against Vannes on Monday as a result.

French giants PSG said Juan Bernat, Sergio Rico and Nathan Bitumazala had also tested positive.

"They are currently in isolation and are subject to the appropriate health protocol," the Ligue 1 leaders announced on their website.

Head coach Mauricio Pochettino is expected to field a young side in the domestic cup game, with Neymar also unavailable as he continues to recover from an ankle injury.

PSG said Neymar would continue to be treated in Brazil for another week. "His return to training is still expected to be in about three weeks," the club said.

Pochettino said in a news conference: "We have been living with the virus for two years now, and I think we all know we need to avoid it.

"But it is a virus we have been living with for a long time and there is still a lot that we do not know about how it works.

"Leo Messi has been in regular contact with our medical team and when he has a negative test he will travel to France, and we do not know any more than that."

PSG play their first Ligue 1 game of 2022 against Lyon next Sunday, but with former Barcelona captain Messi currently in Argentina he appears to be a significant doubt for that fixture.

"I do not know if he will be involved against Lyon," Pochettino said. "Until Leo Messi gets a negative test in Argentina, he will not be able to travel to France.

"It is all down to the test in terms of when he can travel. When he does, we will assess when he is ready to play."

England head coach Chris Silverwood has tested positive for COVID-19 during his team's dismal Ashes tour.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) confirmed Silverwood, who was already due to miss the fourth Test, had joined the number of positive cases in and around the team camp.

It emerged after the Melbourne Boxing Day Test that a member of Silverwood's family had tested positive.

That set up the possibility that Silverwood himself may have come into sufficiently close contact to be infected.

Silverwood was forced to isolate, ruling him out of the Sydney Cricket Ground clash with Australia, which begins Down Under on Wednesday. Now, a positive test means he must wait to rejoin the team.

England are expecting him to be available again to take the reins for the series closer in Hobart, starting on January 14. In the meantime, batting coach Graham Thorpe is stepping up to direct team operations.

In a widely reported statement, the ECB said: "England men's head coach Chris Silverwood has tested positive for COVID-19.

"Silverwood has been isolating in Melbourne since December 30 following a positive test from one of his family members. He will remain in isolation until January 8.

"Silverwood is asymptomatic and is fully vaccinated. He is expected to return to the England party in Hobart ahead of the fifth Ashes Test."

The news comes after England great Graham Gooch expressed dismay at England's inability to be competitive in Australia.

They have already lost the series, after suffering heavy defeats in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne, with Silverwood's position coming under scrutiny.

Speaking to Stats Perform, former captain and opener Gooch said: "I'm bitterly disappointed because losing a Test match is one thing, losing a series is one thing.

"But, what's really concerning for me is the lack of competitiveness of our team against Australia not only in the match at Melbourne, but in the previous two matches. 

"They've outplayed us, out-batted, out-bowled and out-fielded us in all three Tests, in most of the sessions.

"We've had a couple of half sessions, which we've done well with Joe Root and Dawid Malan scoring a few runs, Jimmy Anderson bowling a brilliant spell to help England dismiss Australia at the MCG for 267. But apart from that, we've been lacking."

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti wants consistency when it comes to match postponement protocols following calls to have Barcelona's trip to Real Mallorca cancelled despite them being able to name a squad.

Several LaLiga clubs have suffered with coronavirus outbreaks over the past month or so, with Madrid among them.

Their bitter rivals Barcelona have come into 2022 amid something of a selection crisis of their own, with Xavi set to be without 17 players for their trip to Real Mallorca on Sunday.

Nine of the 17 are absent due to testing positive for COVID-19 in the past week, with Barca coach Xavi calling the decision not to postpone their match "crazy".

While postponements have become commonplace in the Premier League in recent weeks, LaLiga has remained generally uninterrupted due to regulations that make such situations far rarer.

Teams still have to play so long as they have 13 available players from their first and second teams.

Clubs must continue to adhere to the rule that dictates a minimum of seven players registered to the senior team are on the pitch at the same time, but that can drop to five players if teams have fewer than seven professionals available for selection.

Essentially, providing Barca can name five first-team players in a starting XI – there are 11 in the squad travelling to Mallorca – their games will not be postponed, and Ancelotti points out that any wavering in this regard would highlight a lack of consistency.

When asked if games should be postponed, Ancelotti told reporters: "It's a complicated issue. I respect everyone's opinion, because each person has their own.

"A lot of teams have been affected, as we were against Athletic [Bilbao]. There are protocols. We can offer opinions but we have to respect the protocols.

"Before making these decisions [to postpone games], the protocols would have to be changed.

"We've already been on hiatus, and there were a few months without games being played. The pandemic is relatively under control, and we have to continue [playing]."

Given Ancelotti's news conference fell on January 1, he was predictably asked again about the possibility of signing Kylian Mbappe on a free transfer – the Frenchman is now eligible to discuss a move as he is in the final six months of his contract.

But, unsurprisingly, the Italian gave short shrift to the questioning.

"I don't know," he replied to being quizzed on whether Mbappe will join. "We're thinking about fighting for titles.

"It's an interesting time because we're fighting for LaLiga, and the Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana are starting too.

"It's an important period. The last thing I'm thinking about is what's going to happen on June 30.

"What I want is that, when the new stadium opens, I'll be sitting on the bench."

Xavi believes forcing Barcelona to play Real Mallorca on Sunday is "crazy" due to the Blaugrana's 17 first-team absences.

Barca were hit with a spate of COVID-19 cases during the winter break, with as many as 10 players testing positive for the illness.

One of those – Samuel Umtiti – has since returned a negative test meaning he is technically available for Sunday's trip, though he is not deemed match fit after being unable to train in the past week.

Additionally, Xavi is without five players through injury; Sergio Busquets is suspended; Yusuf Demir is negotiating his departure; and Ferran Torres, who is injured anyway, cannot be registered until Monday at the earliest.

While postponements have become commonplace in other competitions, such as the Premier League, regulations in LaLiga make such situations much rarer.

Teams will still have to play so long as they have 13 available players from their first and second teams. Clubs must continue to adhere to the rule that dictates a minimum of seven players registered to the senior team are on the pitch at the same time.

But that minimum can drop to five players if teams have fewer than seven professionals available for selection – essentially, as long as Barca can name five first-team players in a starting XI, their games will not be postponed, much to the frustration of Xavi.

"It makes no sense to play tomorrow," Xavi told reporters in Saturday's pre-match news conference.

"We are in an extreme situation. We have between 17-18 casualties, it depends on Umtiti, who today has tested negative but has not trained for a week.

"It's a time to suspend the game. In this way [not postponing the game], the competition is adulterated, it is crazy to play like this.

"We have no choice but to compete with who we have. Mallorca has also asked for it [the game to be postponed].

"We must appeal to common sense. It's not a complaint, it's a reality. Basketball has been suspended.

"We will play if LaLiga forces us. We've trained well, but it's a chaotic situation. Be that as it may, we will go out to compete and try to win."

Barca head into their first game of 2022 seventh in LaLiga, 18 points adrift of leaders Real Madrid.

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