Op-Ed: 2019 Rugby World Cup underscores the need for insurance planning

01 Nov 2019

By: Sport Industry Group

Ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, Jim Rainford of Miller Insurance looks at the unique circumstances event organisers and governing bodies faced during Typhoon Hagibis, as well as the decisions that need to be made when cancellation becomes an issue.


As the England and South Africa squads continue their preparations ahead of what promises to be an epic 2019 Rugby World Cup final, World Rugby – the game’s global governing body - and the Japanese organisers are still in full operational mode as they work to ensure that rugby’s venture into Asia comes to a successful conclusion.

While exciting games and the performance of the host nation have made this a remarkable tournament, the abiding memory may well be the intervention of Typhoon Hagibis which claimed more than 80 lives, caused the cancellation of the Pool phase matches between New Zealand & Italy and England & France and led to the pivotal Scotland clash with hosts Japan being in the balance until the last minute.

The cancellations and subsequent uncertainty created a raft of commercial issues for many of those involved in the event  - although the death toll resulting from the devastation caused by 150 miles-per-hour winds has put any commercial issues around the event into a different perspective.

They also highlight the significant financial and reputational damage which unforeseen or unlikely events and circumstances can cause and underscore the need for forensic planning and risk assessment to drive an insurance strategy which ensures risks are adequately and effectively covered.

When nature and commercial realities clash

The Rugby World Cup is a massive organisational challenge. At six weeks long, it is a behemoth among international sports events, compared to the Olympic Games at 17 days and even the FIFA World Cup which lasts around one month.

It attracts huge numbers of fans, both from a growing home audience and diehards who travel from around the world to support their own countries. In fact, World Rugby estimated that 600,000 international fans were in Japan.

Like every other major international event its success depends on meticulous planning and the execution of those plans by individuals and teams working across the wide-range of disciplines necessary to ensure that 1.8 million fans can watch a total of 48 games in safety and comfort.

It is also a competition which, like others, is built around a framework of commercial contracts and agreements covering everything from ticketing and hospitality to sponsorships and broadcast. And each of these is jeopardised when something goes wrong.

And when nature plays a part, things can certainly go wrong… badly.

Hagibis will have had a wide impact. Broadcasters were left with nothing to show, sponsors lost their exposure, hospitality programmes ground to a halt and in-stadium sales including food and beverage and merchandise were hit.

Because of their complexity, all public events are vulnerable to a wide range of risks and cancellation, whether as a result of natural or human causes, is chief among them. One only has to look at the relatively recent history of golf’s Ryder Cup for examples of cancellation – a day's worth of play lost due to the weather and the entire event being cancelled because of the threat of terrorism. These, like Hagibis, serve as reality checks for event organisers.

Insurance market provides effective cover for organisers and participants

It is not only off the pitch that insurance has played a key role in the Rugby World Cup. In what is arguably the toughest and physically most demanding of all sports, the toll on players is immense and the threat of injury is ever present.

The livelihood of every player is at risk every time they play or train and the increased intensity of a World Cup creates even greater pressure to make an unparalleled physical commitment in pursuit of ultimate success. 

While not every player at the World Cup was a rugby professional, every one of them has to earn a livelihood and the ability to do so can be ended by a debilitating injury. 

The insurance market offers cover to mitigate against career ending injuries, but ensuring the right type and levels of cover requires a deep understanding not only of the sport and its risk profile but of individual players. 

For both event organisers and players, the worst can happen and history proves that it sometimes does. But, given proper planning and specialist attention, the financial impact can be mitigated for both the event organisers and the players whose talents light up those events.