Eight rugby pros a year suffering career-ending injuries

Irupa to the fore in helping players with their additional insurance needs

Paul O’Connell: suffered a career-ending injury in the World Cup that ruined his hopes of playing club rugby in France. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Paul O’Connell: suffered a career-ending injury in the World Cup that ruined his hopes of playing club rugby in France. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

An average of two rugby players from each province suffer career ending injuries each year in the Irish system. That figure is drawn from 250 professional players, 170 of those senior players with the provinces.

The numbers fluctuate but the average catastrophic injury runs at around three per cent .

Paul O’Connell was probably the highest profile player in recent years to have suffered a catastrophic injury when his serious hamstring tear ended the start of a new career in French rugby.

Players have traditionally focussed on their careers, not the insurance details that are critical to good outcomes if they become one of the unfortunate eight each year.

One of the important roles the Irish Rugby Union Players Association (Irupa) undertake on the players’ behalf is to assist them in their insurance needs and that varies with some players having mortgages and children and others no commitments.

The players have insurance in place as part of their standard player contract with the IRFU. Where IRUPA mainly come in is when players need to have additional insurance to suit their needs.

Insurance claim

“One to two players per squad per year would have to retire due to injury,” says former player and head of legal affairs in IRUPA. Simon Keogh.

“For those guys it’s ‘I’m playing professional rugby to . . . it’s gone’. All of a sudden they are staring at being out of a job in seven to nine months.

“For guys who have only had to think about rugby all of a sudden having to make an insurance claim, they wouldn’t know where to start.”

Insurance is not designed to be a pension. If the injury is career ending and the players fulfils all the criteria of his policy he will be entitled to compensation depending on the details.

If a player is 25 years old, playing for Ireland and earning €400,000 a year, he could insure himself for seven years for the entire salary. In other words if his career abruptly ends he will get a one-off payout of his full salary. Players can also insure themselves for a percentage of their salary which depending on age and other details would be less expensive.

But if a player has a history of a particular injury it may be taken outside of the policy. For example if he has had knee reconstruction at 20-years-old, injured it again at 22-years-old and missed a season at 25-years-old because of the same knee, that injury may be considered high risk and excluded from the policy.

“A big thing is exclusions,” explains Keogh.

“Exclusions are for degenerative injuries, injuries that gradually take their toll over a long period of time. They [insurers] will take that outside. They protect against accident or incidents in games or training. The one-off is the big thing we talk about with the players. It has to be a one-off. The policy isn’t there as a pension. It’s there for specifics. If you are injured from a specific incident that policy is there for you.

“Each player would have slightly different exclusions because they have injuries that might be pre-existing. The percentages vary on age and from policy to policy.

“I have had players with a longer list of injuries but what they have done is paid a higher premium to bring a specific injury back into a policy to make sure they have all their body parts covered, whereas if they pay a lower premium they might have both their legs taken out because of pre-existing injuries.”

Additional cover

Just under 50 per cent of the 250 players in Ireland have additional cover because they believe the standard player’s contract is insufficient. Insurance comes through Lloyds of London and most of the premiums players pay would be less than €10,000 a year, again depending on what’s included and excluded.

“The premiums are dependent on how much you are going to insure yourself for and it’s also age dependant. You can choose the full amount of your pay or you can chose a portion of your pay and say ‘I want to insure myself for €100,000. I’m 25. That will cost me a percentage.”

Differences of opinion do arise but a player’s injury history will come out in the wash if a claim is made.

All medical records must be made available. Doctors keep them for their own needs but there has to be an inbuilt protection against everyone making a claim or premiums would become prohibitive.

“Doctors and physiotherapists have an account of their medical records,” explains Keogh. “That protects the players but also protect the system. You don’t want a system where every single person makes a successful claim because it then becomes an unrealistic market.

“There needs to be parameters (a) what’s in the contract and (b) what’s available to them outside the contract.

“It’s someone else in the player’s lives that knows a bit more. That’s part of what we do.”

Cast your vote to choose one of the nominees in The Irish Times Supporters’ Player of the Year Award at irishtimes.com/playeroftheyear. The award will be presented on May 4th in Dublin

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