So, let’s kick off, shall we?
Christmas wouldn’t really be Christmas without the hope - and then despair - of an Ashes series in Australia.
After traveling down under with renewed hope and optimism, a revitalised team, a flourishing captain and a much-celebrated attack. A host of stringent quarantines and lockdowns pre-empted the tour, but finally England took to the field at Brisbane for the first test.
Rory Burns strode out to open the batting, and within a single ball was dismissed back to the changing room. So began a dismal display from England that saw them lose the Ashes entirely in just 12 days of cricket - Australia punishing them to three victories inside four days, five days, and three days respectively.
The post-mortem has been forensic. There have been calls for coach Chris Silverwood to be fired, for the entire ECB leadership to stand down, and for senior players to be banished from the Test arena.
What has somewhat been forgotten (perhaps mercifully so) is that there are still two Tests to be played.
Now, consider each and every member of the English touring party, stuck in strict quarantine restrictions, testing daily and unable to see family or friends, reading every bit of coverage questioning their positions, ability, talent and careers - all unable to escape that situation for another few weeks.
Yes, it’s been a devastating series on the field, but the welfare of both players and staff - who are now on the cusp of two, ultimately fruitless, Test matches - is in dire need of review.
Over the coming month, we’ll be launching a new campaign with Sport Industry Group analysing player welfare across sport, and how well protected athletes are in the modern sporting landscape.
For now though, we must look to protect our cricketers where possible. It’s been a grueling series and, with just under half still to play, their mental and physical health will need closely monitoring.
It’s safe to say the festive period of football was… disappointing at best.
For many, settling into the Premier League on Boxing Day is a tradition as regular as mince pies or turkey and stuffing.
In 2021, however, that wasn’t quite the case.
Since December 12th, 18 Premier League games have been postponed due to COVID, with hundreds more throughout the Football League and non-league divisions.
As stipulated within the Premier League’s guidance, games can only be postponed if players were unable to field a full team, and it duly complied as match day squads fell foul of the pandemic.
But amid them all, one fixture that did go ahead stood out.
On the weekend of the 18th December, six Premier League games were postponed, but Chelsea v Wolves continued despite the Blues request to cancel.
That drew an angry response from Tuchel, whose depleted side fell six points below Manchester City at the top of the league after Wolves held them to a goalless draw at Molineux.
“I can’t compare it to other games, it is just our situation,” he said. “It is not safe. We talk about protecting players and a safe environment but it is not safe.”
A damning statement from the German, who wasn’t the only one to speak out. As we continue to put player welfare as a central theme throughout the year, the impact of COVID cancellations in football looks likely to remain front of mind.
And finally, we close on something much bigger than sport, but that made us smile this week.
Over in America, during an NHL game last year, medical volunteer and Seattle Kraken fan Nadia Popovici found herself sitting in the stands just behind Vancouver Canuck’s kit man Brian Hamilton.
During the topflight match, Popovici spotted a mole on the back of Hamilton’s neck and, gaining his attention, she wrote a message on her phone and pressed it against the plexiglass dividing the crowd from the ice.
“The mole on the back of your neck is possibly cancerous,” the 22-year old fan wrote. “Please go see a doctor!”
Days later, Hamilton sought medical advice and the mole proved to be a type 2 malignant melanoma, a skin cancer that is curable if caught early. Within a week, Hamilton was cancer-free.
The Canucks and Kraken met again this last week and, during a timeout, announced a $10,000 scholarship for Popovici, towards medical school tuition.
The Canucks won 5-2. They later tweeted a picture of Hamilton and Popovici taking a selfie together. The caption: “The biggest win tonight.”
A reminder that some things are bigger than sport.
Happy New Year all!