With both the Winter and Summer Olympics coming to Asia in the years ahead, what are the key risk considerations for major sporting events and the competing athletes?

Asia has played host to some of the biggest sporting events in the world, including the 2002 football World Cup in South Korea and Japan, the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan and the 1988 Summer Olympics in South Korea.

The Winter and Summer Olympics will soon return to the region, with the former taking place in South Korea’s Pyeongchang in 2018 and the Summer version being held in Japan’s Tokyo in 2020.

Huge crowds gather whenever major sporting events take place and this bring a range of risk management concerns around both the event and the athletes taking part.

JLT affinity distribution divisional director Justin Gillingham says the risk considerations for sporting events varies depending upon the event’s size, complexity and interest insured.

“Large sporting events rely heavily on a range of organisations to deliver a major event and each organisations’ exposures are different,” Gillingham says.

“These organisations range from the event owner, local organising committee, construction companies, broadcasters, ticketing agents, major sponsors, hospitality providers, travel companies, security and participants.”

Gillingham says sport events and professional athletes typically have a high risk profile due to their short time span and high profile.

“For example, a mega event organising committee may only exist for up to 10 years to stage, deliver and wrap up an event from start to finish. Therefore, if a large claim were to arise from the event there is little opportunity for insurers to work through a major loss over time.

“Professional athletes’ risk profile is unique in that the top 1% command very high sums insured that can leave insurers exposed to a significant loss should they be unavailable for selection or not able to continue their career.”

Gillingham says the main risk considerations and types of exposures required to be insured involve four areas: public liability, cancellation and abandonment, construction, and volunteers.

Public liability

The public liability exposure for sports events can contain some very specific exposures presented by crowd risk, participation and terrorism.

“Crowd risk involves a high concentration of people in confined places [which] presents increased risks of crowd crush, temporary seating collapse, injury to spectators and even spectators being hit by a ball or ‘puck’ from the playing arena,” Gillingham says.

“As for ‘participation’, event organisers need to ensure they deliver a safe environment for the participants that at least meet the minimum requirements for the playing arena.

“Particularly in sports such as football, the athletes can be very highly valued assets and injuries due to an unsafe venue present a considerable exposure.”

Unsurprisingly, major sporting events have also become an increased terrorism target due to the high public profile and concentration of people in a confined area. 

“Sporting events work very hard to minimise this through the engagement of local police and security firms, however in the event of a terrorist event the client should be covered for any liability arising,” Gillingham says.

Cancellation and abandonment

The global calendar for sporting events is tightly scheduled and often planned years in advance. But unforeseen circumstances may mean that an event cannot proceed, which opens the event organiser to significant financial risk.

Gillingham says cancellation and abandonment insurance is purchased when an event is cancelled or postponed due to circumstances beyond the control of the event organiser.

“This may be due to reasons such as adverse weather — golf, cricket, tennis and athletics are just a few examples of sports that are susceptible to cancellation due to rain or storms,” he says.

“Venue unavailability [is another reason for cancellation and abandonment]. Following a natural disaster, venues may be damaged and unusable for a major event, such was the case in Christchurch during the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the World Skating Championships in Japan.”

The other two reasons for cancellation and abandonment are ‘non appearance’, where teams travelling to a match may face travel delays due to a natural disaster or pandemic, for example; and power failure, such as factoring in what happens if the power is cut half way through a major sporting event. 


“Mega events are normally several years in the making and include the construction of venues, infrastructure such as road, rail and pedestrian access, athletes villages, and in the case of Sochi 2014 an entire ski resort and city,” says Gillingham.

“These contracts are normally tendered for by construction and architectural design companies, all of which will have their own unique exposures to deliver the projects on time.”


Gillingham says volunteers are the “life blood” of mega events, with thousands of people giving up their time for an opportunity to be part of a major event.

“The London Olympics was the latest shining example of this where the volunteers created a festive atmosphere as they guided, cared for and entertained spectators around all of the venues,” Gillingham says.

“The concern for event organisers can be what happens if the volunteers are injured during their service.”

Risks around professional sportspersons

Professional athletes also present their own unique risk profile.

“To use a football example, the players are highly valued by the club in regards both transfer fees and guaranteed contracts, highly susceptible to short and long term injuries, and, in the case of internationals, are regularly loaned out to another team at no cost and no guarantee they will be returned in ‘safe working order’.”

Gillingham says to overcome this, the major risk considerations for professional athletes are: Temporary Total Disablement – covering an athlete’s weekly salary for games missed due to injury for up to 12 months; Permanent Total Disablement – covering an athlete’s shortfall in projected career earnings if he sustains an injury and is unable to continue their career as a professional athlete; and ‘Accidental Death and Death by Natural Causes’.

Role of insurance

Gillingham says insurance plays a significant role in mitigating the sports risks highlighted.

“Through many years of insuring such risks this niche insurance market is highly specialised in tailoring solutions specifically for clients’ business exposures,” he says.

“Major events are able to insure their gross revenue or expenses should an event not go ahead, athletes and clubs can protect their highly valued contracts and asset values against personal injury. 

“The key is to use a highly skilled and experienced broker that understands the unique risk profile of clients’ business and can address them in an appropriate manner,” he says.