Professional sportspeople rely on their physical faculties being in order and the sudden end of their career can be financially as well as emotionally devastating. 

David Griffiths and Steve Talboys highlight some of the risks on and off the field, as well as the importance of financial planning.

The warmth of the welcome received by two-time Champion Petra Kvitová on her return to Wimbledon was a tribute not only to her proven talent on court, but to an enormous reservoir of courage which has seen her battle back from a psychologically and physically damaging attack which had cast a shadow over her burgeoning career.

Little more than six months ago, she was the victim of a horrendous attack in her apartment in the Czech Republic. Her attacker held a knife to her throat and cut her hand so badly that doctors doubted she would ever hold a racquet again.

But although she has yet to regain complete feeling in her left hand and is suffering flashbacks to the attack, Kvitová struggled, step-by-step, to match fitness and won the pre-Wimbledon Birmingham tournament to underscore her return to the sport’s elite.

It may seem a strange thing to say given the gruesome nature of the attack, but Kvitová was one of the lucky ones.  Through courage and determination, she was able to come back from the injury which threatened her career.  But more or less every day, somewhere in the world athletes are forced to face up to the fact that injury has stopped them earning a living from the sport they love and that their plans for themselves and their families will have to be re-thought.

Dangers on and off the pitch

Former England footballer Jermaine Jenas, ex-British lions Captain Paul O’Connell and Indycar driver Dario Franchitti are among the big name stars forced to retire through injury but, as Kvitová’s case illustrates, career ending injuries aren’t confined to match days.  Training ground injuries can be equally serious and it was at his first session with the England squad which saw much vaunted striker Dean Ashton suffer an injury from which he never recovered.

At a time when prize money for individual sports such as golf and tennis continues to rise and the average wage for a Premier league footballer is £2.4 million, the sudden end of a career can be financially as well as emotionally devastating.  Athletes are, by definition, young people who, by and large, owe their success to a single-minded pursuit of excellence in their chosen sport. They often talk of having sacrificed much of ‘ordinary life’ to reach their goals. Consequently, finding a new role can be difficult and finding one which matches their former earning power almost impossible.

The stark reality facing any sportsman is that their livelihood is at risk every time they play or train and the celebrity which comes along with sporting success can make them the target for off-field attacks which could produce the same result.  Monica Seles, then women’s tennis World  #1, was attacked by a stalker with a nine-inch blade during a 1993 tournament in Hamburg and, more recently, England footballer Andy Carroll was threatened with a gun by attackers on motorcycles on his way home from training.

Image of a golf player

Sports professionals

The value of planning

 Luckily, such incidents are rare but they are a fact for today’s sports stars and should be addressed by players and their representatives when planning their financial affairs. Naturally, the insurance market offers cover to mitigate against career ending injuries with premiums depending on individual circumstances.
As ever, the key is ensuring that the right cover and benefits are identified and that’s a task which demands an understanding not only of the insurance market but of the risk profile of individual sports together with the lifestyle and aspirations of individual athletes.
Local legislation for instance will dictate for how long a football club is obliged to pay a player’s salary after injury.  This will vary from country-to-country and while Premier League players are relatively well looked after, those playing in Germany or France, for example, will continue to be paid for only a few months after their career is brought to an untimely halt.
Today it is common practice for players – or at least their agents, to negotiate an allowance from clubs to cover premiums for personally tailored career ending injury insurance. That makes sense for the players and the clubs which are seen to be playing an active role in player welfare.
Other professional team sports, including rugby, have central arrangements in place to give an element of security to players.  However, this club-funded cover is unlikely to meet the long-term financial aspirations and expectations of a player whose earnings are cut to almost zero overnight.
This is not insurance that can be bought off the peg or on the basis of very broad assumptions. Instead it has to be based on a specialist understanding of the sport and the broad range of risks associated with the individual player. Of course, the sport itself is a major factor with, as you would imagine, rugby being higher risk than tennis or golf.  But risk also differs within sports depending on the specific position of a player, while personal factors such as age and injury record also play an important role.
Whether a professional athlete plays in a team or an individual sport and whether they are among the big earners at the top of their chosen profession or further down the pay scale, they know that any day could be the day an injury or illness brings it all to an end. 
But while injury may be unavoidable, the severe financial impact can be avoided given proper planning and a specialist’s attention to the details of each and every individual.

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