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Professional sporting events have never been entirely about the game. Team owners, player sponsorships, media contracts, ticket sales, and merchandising licenses are the playgrounds of big business. But the tiniest of offensive players, the novel coronavirus, has upended the sporting world. It has become a matter of great debate whether your grandmother or your favorite sports star should have priority for a vaccine.

Take NHL hockey as an example. A delayed season has started. Only a handful of arenas are allowing limited spectators to attend the games. The league is working hard to keep players safe from COVID-19, but games have been delayed and postponed due to positive tests among players, coaches and staff. As one wise sage remarked, “It’s hard to escape the wind.”

Health officials urge all of us to take precautions against the spread of infection. But how can hockey players “social distance” while driving the opponent into the boards?

Teams will take every possible precaution. But this is easier said than done when traveling from game to game. The NHL reports that players are being tested daily. But testing is only one step to prevent the spread of the virus.

As this article went to press, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs were preparing to take the field in Tampa, Florida. Exhausted health officials are losing more sleep worried that huge sporting events like these will cause another winter surge, once again stretching the health care system to the breaking point.

One can hardly blame starved restaurant owners from doing what they can to sell a few meals. But even outdoor seating was a problem for Los Angles when the city hosted the NBA finals in October. The L.A. Times reports, “More than 9,000 COVID-19 deaths have been reported in L.A. County since Nov. 1, more than half of the county’s cumulative COVID-19 death toll of 16,127.”

So it has been proven that professional athletes will play on amid this pandemic.

With the amount of money at stake, it should not come as a surprise if there are nefarious ploys to secure vaccine supplies. Stay tuned for a Hollywood thriller!

But what of Olympic athletes? Woe be Tokyo and the still questionable Olympic Games. According to a recent poll, nearly 80% of Japanese think the games should be canceled or postponed again. However, for many athletes there is only one chance to compete. So most are understandably keen to partake.

The International Olympic Committee is in a pickle, since its revenue is largely dependent on broadcast contracts. The IOC insists the Games are a go. Suggestions that athletes be permitted to jump national vaccine queues have been met with condemnation.

The question remains: Should you and your children be playing contact team sports, or even games, with social distancing?

The answer is a resounding yes, but with a caveat.  Just like porcupines making love, engage in these activities very carefully.

Why is there not more commonsense advice from public health experts about the fortification of our natural immune systems as a protective measure against the virus? Athletes may be the healthiest among us, but even they need robust immune systems. How?

Get ample sleep — without it, you will be weakened. Eat a good diet and drink plenty of water, not sugary drinks. Take a daily dose of immune-boosting vitamins C and D — in the high doses required for a good fight with a viral opponent, not the small amounts for general health. Make sure you are getting enough magnesium and zinc.

Then wear a mask. Keep a distance. And enjoy the exercise!

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is a graduate of the University of Toronto and the Harvard Medical School. For more than 40 years, he specialized in gynecology, devoting his practice to the formative issues of women’s health.

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