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Olympic commentator explains why coronavirus is a threat to Tokyo Games - 'People are dying from this'

Olympic commentator Mark Watson is certain the Tokyo Olympics will go ahead later this year but he warns thinking the coronavirus outbreak won't have a significant impact is foolish thinking.

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Mark Watson said there's a lot more to unpack than what average sports fans are thinking. Source: Breakfast

Watson spoke on TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning about this year's Olympics after a senior IOC member said earlier this week the Tokyo Games would more likely be cancelled than postponed or relocated if Covid-19 proved to be too dangerous to the event.

But Watson, who will attend his fourth Olympics as a commentator, told Breakfast the sporting spectacle will go ahead, albeit with "major disruptions" for athletes.

"Take Nick Willis for example - plagued by injuries last year so now he's running here in New Zealand trying to find some form and he would've been planning on racing in Europe to get that qualifying time and peaking on that nicely," Watson said.

"But now we've seen what's happened in Italy. There's no borders in Europe so there's going to be a pandemic across Europe so where do we go to try and qualify?"

Watson said qualified New Zealand athletes, such as shot putter Valerie Adams, cyclist George Bennett or kayak sprinter Lisa Carrington, may already have a ticket to Tokyo but their build-ups are just as stunted.

"You want competition and normally in the lead-up to the Olympics it's all in Europe - that's how you benchmark, that's how you find out where your form is."

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The outbreak has once again thrown the NZ boxing team’s Olympic hopes into disarray. Source: 1 NEWS

Another factor that Watson says many have overlooked is the toll training for the Olympics can take on an athlete's body and with a potentially fatal virus around, serious precautions are needed.

"They're not like you and me," Watson said.

"When they're training that hard, their nervous systems are frayed and they are on a very, very fine edge in terms of being healthy and not healthy.

"We saw Mahe Drysdale in 2008 pick up a wee bug [and that resulted in] a bronze medal because he struggled."

Watson compared the level of concern to that of the Zika virus which was present in Rio de Janeiro at the 2016 Olympics but the commentator said it has nothing on Covid-19.

"We had Zika virus in Rio... but people are dying from this. That's a gamechanger. The Olympic village? That's a petri dish."

Despite all the risks though, Watson said athletes, organisers and others will ensure the Tokyo Olympics go ahead.

"These athletes are going to say, 'I want to go and I will go' - there's been studies in the past where athletes were asked, 'if you won an Olympic Games gold medal but you were going to be dead at 40, would you take it?' and the athletes said, 'I'd take the gold medal'.

"Your belief system in your 20s is a lot different to your belief system in your 30s and 40s."

And if all else fails, Watson said there's alway one major reason the Olympics will go ahead.

"Twenty billion dollars to $30 billion? I think sometimes money overrides common sense."