Canadian Underwriter

Paid Canadian amateur sport organizations returning to play in a post-pandemic landscape

November 30, 2021   by Markel Insurance Canada

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As the Canadian sports industry emerges from COVID-19, advising your clients on the right risk management strategies is essential for the return to safe play, a Markel Canada executive suggests.

For an industry that’s been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, bouncing back quickly and safely from its devastating impacts has been critical, says Brenda McClung, Director, Markel’s Play sector, Canada’s leading insurance market for sport, leisure, recreation and fitness organizations.

“Even more critical,” McClung adds, “Is ensuring the industry overcomes ongoing challenges and mitigating new risks with proper risk management.”

Pandemic impact

Amateur sports in particular suffered dire consequences when COVID-19 first hit, McClung explains. “Events were suddenly cancelled and facilities shut down abruptly as a result of the multiple lockdowns to stop the spread of the virus. Teams and leagues were adversely affected, cashflow disrupted and insurance challenges saw many people questioning whether event cancellation insurance applied,” McClung says. As a result, the industry was left with “so much uncertainty in unprecedented times”.

And the industry’s far from out of the woods, she adds.

“With sports being contact-based and spectator-based, for the most part, the very challenge is in the nature of the game,” McClung says. “Uncertainty over possible future interruptions, compliance in implementing safe play, changing regulation, protocols, public health restrictions and access to information all remain constant concerns for the industry.”

McClung says the industry needed to rethink the way it manages transmission risk and associated liability.

“As a whole, we need to consider the safety of everyone – the athletes, staff, coaches, spectators, communities. All of these pose different challenges the industry needs to properly address on a day-to-day basis.”

Bouncing back
Despite the ongoing obstacles, the industry has shown resilience in bouncing back and keeping its publics and athletes engaged throughout the events of the past 20 months, whilst facilitating a safe return to live sports, McClung says.

“Virtual sporting events became very popular during the pandemic and kept fundraising and cashflow going, whilst encouraging physical and mental health. Now that things are opening up again, we’re seeing the industry generally adapting well to implementing new protocols and requirements to ensure safe play.”

With this in mind, advising clients around new and existing risk has become more important than ever.

From an insurance perspective, there has justifiably been increased focus and scrutiny on COVID-related losses. However, McClung cautions, it’s “just as important to keep the necessary attention on risks and liability surrounding traditional, more severe exposures, including concussions and abuse”.

What to tell your clients

Markel offers the following advice to share with your clients in the sports industry to help manage their risk and reduce liability:

  1. Risk assessment – The first step in any risk management strategy is to consider what exposures exist and what the levels of risk are. “There are several risk assessment and mitigation checklists available online, for example through credible national sport organizations, the World Health Organization and some industry lawyers,” McClung adds.
  2. Develop clear guidelines – Ensure there are clear, up-to-date, written guidelines and protocols in place to reduce risk.
  3. Enforce guidelines – Simply having guidelines in place is not enough, McClung says. It’s important to educate staff and participants around what the rules are, how to follow them, what steps to take when there’s an issue, and what the consequences are for non-compliance, she adds.
  4. Keep records – Ensure proper record keeping is done to reduce legal liability. In case something happens, an organization will need to prove that they’ve provided reasonable care to minimize risk.
  5. Follow Public Health protocols – Whilst risk management can reduce the spread of COVID-19, it’s still important to follow Public Health measures, such as mask wearing and social distancing.

For more information on Markel Canada’s sport insurance program, click here.