As part of our 'Spotlight on Event Risk' week, David Griffiths, who has specialised in sports insurance for over 20 years, looks at the difficult but inevitable subject of national mourning and the effects this could have on sports events.

The cancellation of public events as a mark of respect and shared grief is a tradition which transcends national boundaries and cultures.

The death of a much-loved public figure, a natural disaster or man-made atrocity sparks an outpouring of sadness which seems best articulated in the context of a period of public mourning which can last from a single day to many weeks.

But the suddenness of a death – even if it is widely anticipated because of age or ill health – and the swift imposition of mourning periods inevitably plays havoc with planned public occasions - including sports events - putting clubs, venue owners and promoters at risk of potentially significant financial loss.

Earlier this year the death of a senior member of one of Europe’s Royal Families triggered a 12-day period of national mourning which led to the cancellation of national league football matches, a city centre charity run and many other events.

The Royal in question was Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, a much-loved World War II veteran who ruled for decades before succumbing at the age of 98.

With respect to Luxembourg, it is a tiny principality whose sports sector is on a scale in keeping with the size of the nation.

So – although it may be uncomfortable - imagine the consequences of a similar period of mourning on the UK sports and events sector in the event of the death of a senior royal. Unpalatable as it is for all of us, this is an event that will happen at some point

Britain’s sporting calendar is among the busiest in the world; from the almost daily schedule of football and rugby in the winter months to a celebrated Summer embracing tennis at Wimbledon, racing at Ascot, the Open Golf and British Grand Prix among other popular and high-profile events.

Should a member of the Royal Family pass at this time the financial impact on multiple events is likely to be severe and re-scheduling to recoup losses is nigh-on impossible.

That puts the onus on rights owners to consider their particular situation and assess the risk to their events and the underlying business accordingly.  While some smart rights owners will have already developed protocols for a range of eventualities, there’s a lot to think about. None of which is entirely predictable.

For example, if you are running a multi-day event do you simply cancel the moment you learn the bad news? Do you continue the day’s play and then cancel the remainder of the event? Do you end play for the day as a mark of respect and then resume the following day?

So much depends on the timing and circumstances of the death but one thing is certain; the reputational/PR damage to a sports event which doesn’t get the protocol right would be significant.

Managing financial loss is, of course a key consideration and standard cancellation insurance policies exclude national mourning although many insurers will extend to cover the death of individuals up to the age of 70 for no additional cost.

That certainly doesn’t embrace the older and most significant British Royals and means that rights owners, promoters and event managers have to assess their individual risk and take the appropriate cover.

At the time of writing, some degree of cover is available for events to extend the national mourning to include more senior members of the Royal Family. Clearly this will come at a cost and availability of cover will depend upon timing of the event, the financial limit and the number of days cover required. With information being sparse from the Palace around the likely protocols in these circumstances, rights holders need to analyse their potential exposure and establish the insurance options available. Decisions can then be made based on risk appetite and affordability.

As someone once pointed out, death – along with taxes – is life’s only certainty. On this basis, events cannot afford to put their heads in the sand around this issue. Whether insurance is the eventual chosen route or not, due consideration to the potential exposures is essential.