The extreme physical impact of being a professional rugby player has again been highlighted with 16 players – including South African captain, Jean De Villiers – being ruled out of the 2015 Rugby World Cup as a result of serious injuries. While some of these players may have arranged appropriate insurance to cover the extremely expensive medical fees and income replacement required during recovery time, other players – such as those at a university or school level – may not have this privilege.
This is according to Dave Honeyman, Executive Head at SHA Specialist Underwriters who says that rugby in particular is getting more physically demanding and serious, and possibly career ending, injuries are the result. “The injuries are happening to younger players as well, yet there is still no focus on providing career ending insurance for our professionals.”
Becoming a professional rugby player is attractive as the game is now at a stage where top South African players can earn in excess of R5 million per annum, says Honeyman. “This amount increases significantly for those players who play for international teams and earn foreign currencies.”
However, a 25 year old who suffers a career ending injury loses the ability to earn this big money for another five to seven years and could be left in a financially drained situation. “This is why it is critical that these players have financial cover in place to not only pay for potential medical and rehabilitation expenses, but lost income as well.”
South African children are being trained and driven from a very young age to be the next Springbok and their bodies start taking massive strain before they even get their first professional contract, says Honeyman. “The competitiveness of the younger players to show their talent and strengths could result in serious injuries at a young age, before they even get to professional status. We have seen a number of recent incidents where younger players have suffered serious or fatal injuries in club rugby games.”
While it is not pleasant to think about, the reality is that the financial strain to any family if a child suffers a disabling injury will be huge, he says. “The child may require special kinds of treatment and may need additional funds to assist with special schooling to ensure that the child can still live a relatively normal life by being employed in the future.”
Honeyman says one just has to look at the Chris Burger Petro Jackson fund to see how many South African families rely on financial assistance following rugby injuries. The Fund, which was founded in 1980, currently supports 107 previous rugby players who have sustained catastrophic head, neck or spinal cord injuries whilst on the rugby field.
He explains that SHA has insurance solutions for professional sports participants to provide cover for a career ending injury, which is an injury that restricts the player from earning an income from the sport for the rest of his/her life, as well as for catastrophic disability which includes a serious injury such as a brain or spinal cord injury that will render the player permanently disabled from performing any form of job for the rest of their life.
“As a result of the inadequacy of current insurance provisions for sportspersons, it is imperative that sportspersons take out their own cover to ensure they are financially covered in the unfortunate event that they become unable to perform their respective sports profession,” concludes Honeyman.