BERLIN: Next year will kick off with the Africa Cup of Nations on Jan. 9 with every major European league forced to release players from the continent to compete for their national teams despite ongoing domestic club competitions. England’s Premier League clubs alone are expected to release some 40 players, with Arsenal, Crystal Palace losing as many as four players while Liverpool are expected to be without three, including Egyptian Mo Salah and Senegalese Sadio Mane. The tournament will be staged in Cameroon, a year after it was delayed due to COVID-19. The Australian Open tennis tournament will then pick up the baton on Jan. 17. The biggest question hanging over the year’s first Grand Slam is whether nine-time champion and world number one Novak Djokovic will compete for a record 21st Grand Slam. Australian authorities have said only vaccinated players will be allowed entry, while Djokovic, whose current vaccination status is unclear, has repeatedly said he is not vaccinated. The controversial Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will follow on Feb. 4 with a diplomatic boycott by some western countries, including the United States and Britain, over China’s human rights record already in place. While Beijing has rejected these boycotts as pure politics, the Games will also need to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, the second Olympics to do so after the Tokyo Summer Games in July. National Football League officials in the United States will be keeping their fingers crossed that the 2022 Super Bowl on Feb. 13 will attract a bigger audience than last year’s 96.4 million viewers, the lowest figure since 2007. The NFL is in the midst of an international expansion with other territories set to be awarded matches, including Germany. Big spenders: The Champions League final is on May 28 and big spenders Paris St Germain and Manchester City will be hoping it is their time to shine after failing so far to lift the most important trophy in club football. Current Premier League leaders City came close to the title this year, losing to Chelsea in the final while PSG, losing finalists in 2020, have brought in Argentine great Lionel Messi in a bid to land the trophy. The 150th edition of the British Open, the oldest golf tournament in the world, will be held at St Andrews’ Old Course from July 10-17 with organisers expecting a record crowd. Among those wanting to play there is 15-time major winner Tiger Woods who has called it his favourite course in the world. The best golfer of his generation was close to having his leg amputated after a car crash in Los Angeles in February. The soccer World Cup in Qatar is already confirmed as one of the year’s sporting highlights, with the Gulf state a target for human rights activists. Many soccer fans are still fuming over the decision to award the tournament to a country with no football tradition and with a desert climate unsuitable for top-level competitive matches. The weather has also forced a change of dates and the event will not be staged in the northern hemisphere’s summer period due to the scorching heat in Qatar in those months. Instead it will be held in November-December which means major football leagues must stop in October, two months after starting their seasons, and resume again in late December.