Olympics

Terror threats around Sochi raise questions on insurance

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The Canadian Press
1/31/2014 3:20:13 PM
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OTTAWA - Canada's highly paid Olympic men's hockey professionals are insured against acts of terrorism when they compete in the Sochi Games but it is not at all clear the same coverage extends to their amateur brethren on the Olympic team.

As for regular Olympic spectators, they're being warned that most travel insurance policies won't cover acts of terrorism or war.

The Games in southern Russia, which run from Feb. 7-23, are being staged amid unprecedented security and under global warnings of danger.

An extraordinary travel advisory from the Canadian government highlights Sochi terrorist threats in bold red script.

"In July 2013 Imarat Kavkaz leader Doku Umarov called on militants to derail the Sochi Olympic Games using any necessary means, and lifted his previous moratorium on actions of militants in Russia outside the North Caucasus," states the government's travel advisory page.

"On January 19, 2014, the Ansar Al-Sunna terrorist group took responsibility for the December 2013 attacks on Volgograd ... and threatened further attacks if the Olympic Games were to take place."

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney reinforced the message last week by issuing a statement warning that special security at Olympic venues "does not eliminate the risk of terrorist attacks."

Such government warnings won't likely make a traveller's insurance void, says John Thain, president of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada.

Only an outright government advisory not to travel in a country or region may void travel insurance, he said.

But check the fine print on terrorism because most policies don't cover it, he added.

"One of the messages we're trying to get across to all Canadians is know and understand your policy," Thain told The Canadian Press.

It is advice that should apply to athletes attending in the Games as well.

The Canadian Olympic Committee, which handles insurance for most of the Canadians competing in Sochi, flatly rebuffed questions about its insurance coverage.

"Internal matters including HR (human resources) and administrative policies for employees, athletes and mission team members are simply not subjects we discuss publicly," the committee told The Canadian Press in an email statement.

Agent Kris Mychasiw, who represents bobsled Olympian Kaillie Humphries, said all the terrorism talk is "being blown out of proportion."

"London had the same issue. Athens had the same issue," said Mychasiw.

Asked whether Canada's Olympians are insured against a career-ending injury caused by an act of terrorism, Mychasiw responded "to my knowledge, no."

"Even if you were to get insurance for it, the odds of something like that happening, or being in an environment where that would happen, are slim to none," said the agent.

That's not the tack taken by National Hockey League and its player's association.

Greg Sutton of Sutton Special Risk, which insures more than 450 profession hockey players including Sydney Crosby, said he's taken a number of calls from concerned players and their agents in the run-up to Sochi.

"All of our policies actually include terrorism, but what they aren't covered for is any acts of terrorism which use nuclear, chemical or biological means," Sutton said in an interview.

Bob Nicholson, the president of Hockey Canada, said group insurance for Olympic pros was handled through the International Ice Hockey Federation.

That was part of the agreement for getting the pros to Sochi, said Nicholson.

Sutton said some players have asked to include the extra nuclear-chemical-biological coverage, known as NCB, and that adds about 10 to 15 per cent to the premium. Other players are also taking out additional personal insurance.

"There are players who are still young enough that there's a need for them to protect their future value, too, and that's where the personal coverage comes in. We do both."

Sutton said Hockey Canada inquired about adding NCB but he's not sure if it ended up taking the extra coverage.

Any difference between insuring Canada's amateur Olympians and the NHL pros comes down to a business decision based on guaranteed, multi-million-dollar contracts, said Mychasiw.

"The NHL is taking precautions because that's a money-making business. They're looking at protecting their assets, from the NHL Players Association right up to the league."

On Monday, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported that a British government intelligence report warns that more terrorist attacks in Russia are "very likely to occur" before or during the Sochi Games.

The BBC reports that the leaked assessment says Sochi itself may be difficult to attack due to massive Russian security operations.

With files from Joshua Clipperton.

Olympic Cauldron (Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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