SOCCER

The British government is increasingly troubled by players hugging and kissing in celebrations, risking coronavirus infections and the sport’s ability to be allowed to continue during the latest lockdown.

Outbreaks at Premier League teams, forcing the postponement of matches, have heightened concerns about the avoidable and very visible close contact between players.

“Everyone in the country has had to change the way they interact with people and ways of working,” Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston tweeted Wednesday. “Footballers are no exception. COVID secure guidelines exist for football. Footballers must follow them and football authorities enforce them – strictly.”

Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Premier League has warned clubs that punishments will be handed out for flouting the rules.

Huddleston linked on Twitter to a news story about the league’s letter to clubs which specified players should avoid handshakes, high-fives and hugs and that they were “fortunate to be able to continue to play. ” That warning was not adhered to when Sheffield United and Manchester United embraced while celebrating scoring in their victories on Tuesday.

The league configured protocols for the return of games in March in conjunction with Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, who also urged players to avoid hugging and kissing on Wednesday.

“We are in a very dangerous place now,” Van-Tam said on LBC radio while discussing the issue. “Every close human contact, that is avoidable, should be avoided because one in three of us will get the infection and have no symptoms at all.”

A more contagious variant of COVID-19 is sweeping across Britain where there have been more than 83,000 deaths from the disease. Britain reported 1,243 deaths on Tuesday, its second-highest number of daily fatalities since the start of the pandemic last year.

U.S. WOMEN: Brazilian-born midfielder Catarina Macario received permission from FIFA to play for the U.S. national team.

The governing body’s approval means she could appear in a pair of national team exhibition games in Florida against Colombia later this month.

Macario, who came to the United States when she was 12 and played for Stanford, is in camp with the national team. She became an American citizen in October but hadn’t been able to play for the team while awaiting FIFA’s permission.

She announced last week that she is going to forgo her senior year and embark on a professional career. She has signed her first pro contract with seven-time European champion Lyon.

The two-time winner of the MAC Hermann Trophy as the nation’s best college player, Macario set a Stanford single-season record of 32 goals and 23 assists in 2019, when the Cardinal won the College Cup. She finishes her career at Stanford with 63 goals and 47 assists in 68 matches.

She was called up to her first national-team camp on the same day she became a citizen.

GOLF

LPGA: The Gainbridge LPGA tournament is moving to Lake Nona, giving the LPGA Tour consecutive events in Florida one month apart to start its 2021 season.

The Gainbridge LPGA, to be played Feb. 25-28, is in its second year. It was played last year at Boca Rio Golf Club in Boca Raton.

Lake Nona has been the Florida home of several top players over the years, such as Annika Sorenstam, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter.

Ten years ago, the LPGA Tour had only one tournament in Florida, the season-ending Titleholders at Grand Cypress in Orlando. Now it has five tournaments, starting with the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions that opens the season next week in Orlando.

That will be followed by the Gainbridge LPGA, the Drive On Championship at Golden Ocala on March 4-7, and then consecutive weeks to end the season at the Pelican Women’s Championship outside Tampa on Nov. 11-14 and the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples.

HANDBALL

U.S. PULLS OUT OF WORLDS: The United States men’s team has been forced to withdraw from the world championships in Egypt after a coronavirus outbreak, saying late Tuesday that “a majority of our players and staff members tested positive for the virus” before the squad planned to travel to Egypt.

“Everyone seems to be in good health, with little to no symptoms currently,” the team said. “However, the virus has rendered us unable to field a competitive team.”

United States Coach Robert Hedin told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet on Tuesday that 18 people in the squad, including players and staff members, had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The United States is the second team ruled out by coronavirus cases, following the Czech Republic. The International Handball Federation named Switzerland and North Macedonia as late replacements for the championships.

RUGBY

PLAYER SUSPENDED FOR SWEARING: England prop Kyle Sinckler will miss the team’s opening match of the Six Nations against Scotland on Feb. 6 after receiving a two-week ban on Wednesday for swearing at a referee in a club game.

The incident took place when Sinckler was playing for Bristol Bears in a Premiership match against Exeter on Saturday. He used bad language as he questioned a referee’s decision not to award a penalty. Sinckler was cited and appeared before an online independent disciplinary hearing, which upheld a charge that he failed to respect the authority of a referee.

The 27-year-old Sinckler is free to play again on Feb. 9, making him available for the match against Italy at Twickenham in round two.

He apologized for the outburst straight after Saturday’s game, saying it was “not the example I want to be setting.”

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