Canada’s amateur sports, leisure, recreation, and fitness sector has come a long way in improving safety and mitigating injury risks, with greater attention on governance and safety protocols, coupled with technology innovations, having driven better risk management practices in the past few years, according to an industry expert.
“Good governance makes for safer sport,” said Brenda McClung, AVP Markel Play, Markel’s specialty sector for amateur sport, recreation and fitness.
“It’s had an impact on the number of claims we’ve been seeing. Safer sport links back to insurance because, of course, it means fewer claims and less litigation.”
Markel Play caters to amateur sports associations including national and provincial associations, recreational sports teams and leagues, fitness instructors, gyms, and studios. According to McClung, injuries still make up the bulk of claims in this sector.
Amateur sport also isn’t immune to the wave of class action lawsuits in the wider industry. Claims under directors and officers’ liability insurance are also impacting the market, contributing to rising premiums.
With factors such as social inflation and the rising cost of claims continuing to impact premiums, the importance of strong governance in preventing injuries can’t be understated.
“The board of directors should understand their role and the protocols in place, and that sets it for everybody underneath,” McClung said. “From an insurance perspective, we insure the association, then all the clubs and all the members, so it all trickles down. That's how a sport association governs as well.”
But good governance is also more than direction from the top, she added. Best practices are brought down to the team level and instituted through a culture of safety across the organization.
“That goes from wearing protective equipment, seeing to it that the coaches and referees are well-trained, and ensuring background checks are in place to prevent abuse,” said McClung.
Strong governance is especially important in sports associations, leagues, and groups that rely on volunteers.
These types of organizations could be more exposed to injury and other risks if volunteers, especially coaches and referees, aren’t aligned with safety protocols or adequately trained, according to the Markel Canada leader. Education and good protocols, again, are key.
“The problem that I recognise is that most coaches are volunteers. When you need to put in so many hours and jump through so many hoops to be trained to become a volunteer, then it becomes a huge time commitment for many people,” McClung said.
“Then you have your refs. So, it’s critical to make sure they're trained and understand all the rules because if the rules of the game are not being followed, that's when it becomes more dangerous, and we’re more likely to have injuries and, of course, lawsuits.”
Markel Canada also highlighted the growing role of digital tools and technology in improving good governance in amateur sports.
“Technology is fantastic from an insurance perspective,” McClung said. “There is a lot that's gone into making sports safe, especially around concussions, over the last few years.”
For instance, apps for concussion management are facilitating better communication among athletes, coaches, sports teams, schools, and medical staff. Concussion is one of the top injuries in sports, and the most common in contact sports such as rugby or football.
Sports teams must follow a return-to-play protocol if an athlete is concussed. The athlete can’t return to the sport with the approval and under the supervision of their healthcare provider, McClung explained.
“A lot of these platforms can keep all the documents in one place,” said McClung. “Everything's easily tracked, and it's very simple for everyone to be able to make sure that they're following proper protocols in getting [an athlete] back.
“It's the same thing with waivers because you can now sign and store them online. Having technology to manage and file these documents great when a claim does come.”
With the digitization of many administrative tasks, volunteers and leaders can also devote more resources and effort to more complex activities, such as fundraising, training, and strengthening their governance.
“Good governance makes for safer sport. The safer the sport is, the fewer claims we're going to see,” McClung said.
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