Olympic adrenaline: insurers do not shy away from dangerous sports

The attached article – Olympic Adrenaline – by Sportscover business development director, Paul Thomas, published on 7th February 2014, is reprinted with kind permission of Insurance Day. If you require further information or news services from Insurance Day please visit their website www.insuranceday.com or contact Carl.Josey@informa.com.

With the Winter Olympics now under way in Sochi, the potential for serious sporting injury rises.

By Paul Thomas, Business Development Director at Sportscover Europe

7 February, 2014

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After seven years of waiting, the Russian resort of Sochi between the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains will for two weeks be the centre of global media attention with the start of the 22nd Winter Olympic Games.

Already Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has been on the slopes in the mountains in full ski regalia in a move intended to silence the sceptics who claimed as with Vancouver four years ago a potential lack of snow could have hampered some events. Well, the snow has arrived, the weather forecast looks encouraging and, besides, such has been the extent of planning and preparation for this sporting spectacle even if conditions do deteriorate there will be no need to worry. The organisers have 500 snow guns ready to make artificial snow, with 710,000 m3 of snow also in special storage, having been taken from the Caucasus mountains last winter.

Out of organisers’ hands

Despite the meticulous preparation for these Winter Olympics, however, one factor will always be out of the hands of the organisers: sporting injury. The simple fact remains these games will have a slew of events which are by their nature inherently dangerous. As recently as 2012 Canadian World Cup skiing cross-country specialist Nic Zoricic and World Championship-winning freestyle skier Sarah Burke both lost their lives on the slopes.

At a World Cup race on March 10 in Grindelward in Switzerland, Zoricic crashed head-first into netting lining the course after going wide and falling on the final jump. He suffered severe skull and brain trauma and was airlifted to a hospital in Interlaken where he was later pronounced dead. Earlier that year, Burke was seriously injured while training on the Park City Mountain Resort Eagle superpipe in Utah and later died in hospital. Four years previously, Austria’s Mathias Lanzinger lost control in a men’s World Cup downhill event at Kvitfjell, Norway and had to have his left leg amputated below the knee.

Wide range of activities

Of course, the Winter Olympics encompass a much wider range of activities than skiing. Indeed, one of the attractions of the event for the casual viewer is the opportunity to engage with some of the more esoteric winter events which have increasingly come to the fore in recent years such as the luge, snowboarding and skeleton. Unfortunately, however, these events can pose just as much danger to competitors, as sadly demonstrated at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics when Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili lost control at 88 mph during a late-morning training run and flew off the final corner at the Whistler Sliding Centre. The 21-year-old Olympian struck one of the structural poles lining that part of the course and attempts to revive him at the track were unsuccessful.

It is important to remember nonetheless these sports are not limited to the Olympic Games. Skeleton, a spin-off from the popular British sport of Cresta sledding, where a person rides a small sled down a frozen track while lying face down, became permanently added to the Winter Olympic programme in 2002. Popularity in the sport has grown since then and now includes participation by some countries that do not or cannot have a track because of climate, terrain or monetary limitations. Athletes from such countries as Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, South Africa, Argentina, Iraq, Israel, Mexico, Brazil and even the Virgin Islands have become involved with the sport in recent years.

Another more esoteric winter sport, the luge (which translates as “sled”) sees competitors travelling feet-first down an icy track at up to 85 mph with only a helmet for protection. This is catching on in countries you would not necessarily expect; for example, you can learn to luge in Britain, with Chill Factore in Manchester offering a dedicated luge facility. It is only 60 m long and far removed from the Olympic event, but still offers a taste.

No shortage of cover

Whether at the highest level of competition or at a more amateur level, participants in such dangerous sports should be comforted by the knowledge underwriters do not shy away from cover. The insurance market, especially at Lloyd’s, has a distinguished history of offering accident insurance to cover death or disablement for professional athletes participating in such events, with similar cover also available for those wishing to participate at an amateur level, typically offering compensation and/or rehabilitation for disabling injury, medical expenses and loss of income. Indeed, Sportscover has recently signed a four-year partnership with the UK’s high-performance sports agency, UK Sport, which is responsible for unlocking Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic potential.

It is reassuring to know even though for many of us the nearest we will get to a head-first slide down an ice track at 80 mph is merely as a spectator from the comfort of our lounge, for those who do want to get serious this winter – whether in Sochi or Manchester – bespoke cover is there to support them.

Sochi by numbers

7 winter sports represented: biathlon, bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, luge, skating and skiing

11 venues to be used in the games

18 days for Sochi Games from start to finish

48 distance (kilometres) between Sochi’s “Coastal”’ and “Mountain” clusters

85 nations participating

98 sets of bronze, silver and gold medals

6,000 athletes competing in the games

25,000 volunteers working at games

$50bn estimated cost