By Tom Stoyle, Senior Contingency Underwriter
On 8 September, one of the biggest events in the 2023 sporting calendar kicks off when France takes on New Zealand at the Stade de France in Paris in the opening match of the men’s Rugby World Cup (RWC).
While all eyes will be on the action on the pitch, the attention of the insurance industry will be elsewhere because an event of this scale creates potential risks both on and off the field.
An Event of Scale
The seven-week tournament will see the best teams in the world clash to secure the title of world champion. A total of 48 matches will be held at nine different venues across France.
An event of this scale is big business. Now regarded as the third-biggest sporting event behind the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games, the potential economic impact to be generated by RWC hosting countries is significant. The most financially successful Rugby World Cup to date was the 2019 Japan RWC, which generated a whopping £4.3 billion for the economy, as reported by EY.
With such high stakes for a major tournament of this size, it’s no surprise event organisers and businesses will be turning to the contingency market for protection should any disruptions occur during the seven-week period.
Not Just a Risky Sport
There are several potential perils that could impact the smooth running of the Rugby World Cup. Some risks many would expect for an event of this nature, but there are also some more obscure risks unique to this year’s tournament including an unexpected religious event.
Here are some of the main coverages that a contingency policy could provide for a major sporting tournament of this type:
Come rain or shine, rugby usually goes on. However, adverse weather is a common cause of events needing to be cancelled or postponed. In the 1995 RWC semifinal between host South Africa and France, the match was delayed for more than an hour as the pitch needed to be cleared of water following a heavy downpour. As for this year, with the tournament taking place during the autumn period, there is potential for storms to impact play on the pitch. Heavy rain or electrical storms could result in a match being cancelled, abandoned, postponed, interrupted, curtailed or relocated. This could have a significant impact given the number of matches taking place in such a tight schedule.
Unfortunately there is precedent here, as both the 2019 and 2011 RWCs were directly impacted by natural disasters. In 2019, Typhoon Hagibis tore through Japan resulting in the cancellation of three pool matches, and the 2011 Christchurch earthquake saw games scheduled to take place in New Zealand’s AMI Stadium relocated because of stadium and infrastructure damage.
While France is considered a low-risk area for natural catastrophes such as earthquake, it is exposed to flooding. A major flood affecting the Seine, for example, could impact matches at the Stade de France.
Catastrophe non-appearance is a critical type of cover where the success of an event depends on key people — in this case, the rugby teams. As has occurred at other events, most recently football, illness can quickly cause havoc within a team. For example, Barcelona’s friendly against Juventus in July had to be cancelled hours before kick-off because of a virus hitting a ‘significant part’ of the La Liga champions’ squad.
If an illness, unavoidable travel delays, injuries or death make it impossible for a nation to field a team, this could result in a match being cancelled or postponed.
At the time of writing, France’s national security threat alert is at the medium level ‘Reinforced Security — Threat risk’. The country has experienced several terrorist incidents in the past and large-scale events can be key targets for terrorist organisations or individuals. Should an act or threat of terrorism occur at one of the stadiums, coverage can be put in place to protect the financial interest of key stakeholders as a result of one or more of the matches being cancelled, postponed or relocated.
Civil Commotion and Strikes
Civil commotion and strikes are always a potential risk at events of this nature, and safety measures will be in place for such actions. The Rugby World Cup is being held against a backdrop of some of the worst unrest France has experienced in years. There have been widespread protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform, as well as rioting in several of the cities that will be hosting matches following the shooting of a teenage boy by a French police officer.
Civil unrest can pose a significant risk of physical loss or damage, as well as bodily injury or death. It will be a significant concern for key stakeholders over the seven-week period.
Venue Damage Following the Mass in Marseille
It’s not every day that contingency underwriters need to consider Pope Francis’ travel plans. But just one week before the group match between South Africa and Tonga, Pope Francis will be leading a public outdoor mass at the venue for the match, the Stade de Marseille. With thousands of people expected to attend, there is a risk that damage to the pitch could make it unplayable, so event organisers will no doubt have contingency plans in place should property damage occur.
Taking to the Pitch
In the coming weeks, players from 20 nations will take to rugby pitches across France, while fans from around the world will fill stadiums and enjoy the spectacle as the biggest names in the sport go head-to-head. And on the sidelines, the contingency insurance market will be ready to sub on if needed.