Changes to rugby tackling rules may have seen a record number of red-card casualties at the Rugby World Cup in Japan, but they’re pivotal to improving safety on the pitch.
World Rugby Chief Medical Officer Dr. Martin Raftery notes it’s one of several initiatives that are contributing to “significant progress” in injury prevention.
Is it too soon for insurance underwriters to consider this decrease for career-ending insurance? And how might the association you play for and number of games played after an injury affect a policy?
As the World Cup heats up with quarter-final matches in Japan this weekend, we spoke to Matthew Dewen, Director of Full-Time Cover who specialise in career-ending insurance for sporting professionals, for insight around the finer details of this essential cover, and how they can make all the difference in critical career decisions.
What is career-ending insurance and who’s it for?
Individual players come to us, and they are looking to protect themselves financially for a career-ending injury. It’s the main protection they’re looking for.
I’ve not seen or experienced a case where an individual seeks extra cover while playing for England for a short-term injury because I believe the wraparound for the RFU is more than sufficient.
What factors do underwriters take into account with career-ending insurance?
Obviously rugby is a high-impact contact sport so naturally, premiums are going to be a bit more expensive. Rugby players will pay typically about four times more on their premium than what a footballer may look to get.
The main factors underwriters consider are age, the position they play, and medical history.
Age has the biggest impact on premium. The tipping point tends to be about 28 which is when the premiums become a lot higher. A 30-year-old body that’s had 10 years of professional rugby impact on it is going to be a lot more bruised than a 21-year-old body and the potential of impact is a lot harsher.
With positions, anyone in the front line of a scrum can expect to pay more as it’s very impacting on your body.
How is a career-ending injury determined when not immediately apparent?
If, for example, I’ve had a clean bill of health and my left ankle is badly injured in a tackle, I’m out for six months and that’s undisputed. Following that six months of recovery, the policy would then focus on a period of games.
This is something for players to look out for in their policy. Typically, this period would be seven games, so if after my surgery, I’m back on the pitch and I play seven games, the insurance will say, “do you know what? Your career’s not over.”
That ankle injury now gets put into your pre-existing condition pile that we look out for and you’re not essentially covered, because then you’ve gone over the margin of games that your policy allows you to.
This happens a lot more in rugby and puts players in a difficult situation. If you’re on game number six, and you’re thinking, “well actually, my left ankle which had the operation doesn’t feel 100%”, do you play that seventh game and know that you’re not covered for it? Do you tell your coach you need to rest? Or do you say, “that’s the end of my career”?
It’s a difficult conversation to have with the coach because they will say “well if you’re fit to play, you’re fit to play. You’ve played six games on it.”
This is where the strength of the policy comes in. What you want from a player’s perspective is to have that game period as long as possible, because it allows you that much greater leeway. The chances are if you’ve played 20 games then you probably are fine, whereas a much shorter time playing – two, three games – isn’t anywhere near enough.
We often use a specific example when talking clients through difficult scenarios: a 25-year-old with 20 international caps and several endorsement deals suffers a knee injury while playing for his club.
After surgery, following a period of rehabilitation, the player makes several comeback attempts but repeatedly has to withdraw due to the original injury. Two years after the original injury occurs, the player takes medical advice and retires. That way, they can make a claim on a policy we’ve arranged which pays out a tax-free lump sum.
How are lump sums calculated and are regular payments an alternative option?
The lump sum is essentially determined by your wages and as well as other income streams that are reliant on your career. If you’re very high profile, you’ll have a large number of sponsorship deals that are pretty much dependent on you still playing the game.
What you would look to do is go through all of these factors and derive a lump sum payment which will provide the player and their family with financial security should their career be cut short tomorrow.
They can choose for it to be paid in instalments, but typically these are 30-year-old guys and they would look to invest that lump sum in other opportunities, be it business ideas or property. A lot of them would just take the lump sum.
What the club is obliged to pay is statutory, but they might make an ethical decision if the player has been with them a long time to go above that. But that would be very much down to the club’s discretion.
An individual player for England will still be covered whether it’s club or country and most policies will factor in for that. It tends to be a different scenario when players stay abroad full-time like when Jonny Wilkinson chose to play in France and the policy will need to consider the different rules for different rugby associations.
The RFU will have certain rules that a club must pay you, say, six month’s salary for a career-ending injury, whereas other associations may be less. We typically get that quite a lot in football with all the different leagues, be it Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga. There are very significant differences in how many months wages the club is obliged to pay the player should they suffer a career-ending injury. It can be anything from nothing to 12 months.
Do you see claims more in rugby?
In rugby, it’s definitely more frequent. What’s important to remember with career-ending insurance is that it’s not just injuries. Most people just picture this horror tackle on the pitch but illness comes into it as well.
There have been cases of players suffering from Leukaemia so have had to call it a day and other cases of heart conditions, so it’s not all down to that crunching tackle. There’s a lot of other background issues as well which can bring an end to someone’s career.
Have you already seen an impact as a result of new tackling rules on premiums?
Not just yet – these things will always take a while to catch up with. I don’t think there will ever be a rush of insurers underwriting according to new rules being implemented as they’ll always want to see a year or two of figures before they make any jumps.
The hot topic for all players, and it’s the one we get asked most on, is around concussions. It’s a big grey area not just from an insurance but also from a medical care perspective. It’s how people determine concussion. Our advice always to players suffering from a concussion or who think they’re suffering from a concussion is to get the highest level of care available to them.
About half of all injuries and three-quarters of concussions are sustained through tackles. We’ve seen stats that show about a 15% reduction in concussion in rugby and I think we’re starting to see a decrease across the board in injuries because of other rules implemented recently.
As an immediate impact, we can see it taking effect in terms of punishment of the players – this year’s World Cup already holds the record now for players getting yellow and red cards. I think in the long-term, given the figures, we’ll naturally see injuries continue to drop down as a result.
Of course, this will always be welcomed whether you’re a spectator or an insurer.
To find out more about Full-Time Cover and the insurance services they offer, visit their website.