Event Cancellation Risk

Doubts Buzz Around Rio Olympics

The threat of Zika continues to prompt calls for the cancellation of the 2016 Olympic Games.
By: | July 5, 2016 • 6 min read

As the threat of the Zika virus remains an urgent one in Brazil, calls have been made for the cancellation or relocation of the 2016 Olympic Games – an extreme decision that would cause enormous losses to the global insurance market.

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Some of the world’s largest insurers and reinsurers, including Swiss Re and Munich Re, have exposures to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars each for cancellation insurance policies that would likely be triggered if the games were not to take place.

Such policies cover financial losses caused by the cancellation of events and are purchased by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which organizes the games, and by companies and organizations with significant interests in the games. They include sponsors, TV networks, tourism operators, airlines, brands with Olympic-focused marketing campaigns and others.

Underwriters must have sighed with relief when the World Health Organization said “there is no public health justification for postponing or cancelling the games.”

The risk of cancellation gained steam in recent weeks after a group of more than 150 high-profile scientists released an open letter urging the games to be suspended in order to prevent Zika from spreading around the world.

“An Unnecessary Risk”

“The Brazilian strain of Zika virus harms health in ways that science has not observed before,” the scientists said in the letter. “An unnecessary risk is posed when 500,000 foreign tourists from all countries attend the Games, potentially acquire that strain, and return home to places where it can become endemic.”

They pointed out in the document that the 2003 Women’s World Cup was moved from China to the U.S. due to the risk of SARS, which should be a precedent for the cancellation of Rio 2016.

Royal Oakes, insurance partner, Hinshaw & Culbertson

Royal Oakes, insurance partner, Hinshaw & Culbertson

Underwriters around the world must have sighed with relief when the World Health Organization released an answer to the scientists, stating that “there is no public health justification for postponing or cancelling the games.”

“It is very likely that current policies have no exclusions for public health events such as epidemics,” said Royal Oakes, an insurance partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson in Los Angeles.

The market may have dodged a bullet, but insurers and reinsurers may still face a bill due to the pesky Aedes mosquitoes, which transmit not only Zika, but also other viruses such as chikungunya, dengue and yellow fever; all common diseases in Brazil.

“Cancellation policies are such long shots that usually nobody gives them any attention,” Oakes said. “But now everybody is talking about cancelling Rio 2016 due to Zika.”

According to sources, at least one of Europe’s largest reinsurers signed a large cancellation contract with NBC, which owns TV rights to the Olympics in the U.S. It has been pressured to consider the possibility of triggering the coverage even if the games go ahead, but key American athletes decide not to compete, affecting ratings and, consequently, publicity revenues.

Although this kind of clause may not be usual in policies, Oakes said, it may have been arranged between the parties, as wordings are non-standard and are subject to agreements between buyers and underwriters. That said, he would be surprised if a policy was triggered by the fact that athletes do not show up.

Top golfers Rory McIlroy of Ireland and Jason Day of Australia, and Tejay van Garderen, one of America’s top cyclists, have already announced they are not going to Rio in August because of Zika.

Others include NBA star Pau Gasol, the most famous member of Spain’s Olympic team, U.S. soccer player Hope Solo and tennis star Serena Williams. All have expressed doubts about participating in the games due to the risk of contamination. Some NBC staffers are also passing on the opportunity.

Companies that send staff to Brazil during the games have been advised to provide information to their employees on Zika prevention.

The Brazilian government said that measures have been taken to stop the propagation of Zika during the Olympics. Furthermore, it argued that the games will take place during the Brazilian winter, when the activities of the mosquitoes diminish considerably.

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“There is no risk for the spreading of Zika to gain pace during the Olympics,” Health minister Ricardo Barros said in early June.

But the failure of the Brazilian authorities to stop the virus so far raises doubts about the minister’s claim.

Since the autochthonous version of the outbreak was first spotted in April last year, almost 92,000 cases of Zika contamination were reported in the country, according to the government.

Since October, there have been nearly 1,500 known cases of babies born with microcephaly, which has been linked to the virus. A total of 223 have already been associated to Zika via lab tests. The actual number could be much higher, as the tests to identify both Zika and microcephaly cases are not available to all Brazilians.

Companies that send staff to Brazil during the games have been advised to provide information to their employees on Zika prevention.

They range from simple measures such as applying repellent and wearing long-sleeved clothes that reduce the skin area that can be targeted by mosquitoes, to avoiding poorer regions of Rio de Janeiro, where sanitation infrastructure is precarious, and practicing safe sex, as the virus can also be transmitted during sexual intercourse.

Security Risks

But Zika is not the only risk that worries participants in the event.

Debora Rocha, regional security manager, International SOS

Debora Rocha, regional security manager, International SOS

Security is a big issue in Brazil, and 90,000 security agents will be deployed by the authorities to guarantee safety. Although terrorism is not a common threat in the country, the security forces said that they have been collecting information about potential attacks during the games and are working with other countries to neutralize the risk.

“Brazil has hosted the Pan American games, the Confederations Cup and more recently the FIFA World Cup, so there is considerable experience in dealing with large events and collaborating with security forces from other countries,” said Debora Rocha, the regional security manager at International SOS in Brazil.

But crime is a major concern in Rio de Janeiro, and it is on the rise as a consequence of Brazil’s economic crisis.

Rocha said visitors should avoid walking around beautiful Rio de Janeiro while carrying valuable items — such as iPads, smartphones or expensive watches — and they should not wander around impoverished parts of the city.

“We do not recommend that people go to ‘favela’ tours that have been fashionable in recent years,” she said, referring to Rio’s famous, and very dangerous, shantytowns.

Another important precaution is to only take taxis that are called by hotels, restaurants or telephone services. Picking a taxi on the road is a particularly bad idea as some cab drivers can be criminals in disguise.

In general, information on risk management systems and structures have not been made public, which has raised questions about the robustness of ERM at the Rio games.

“Crime is among the top two or three concerns, along with Zika and the general preparedness of infrastructure and venues in Rio,” said Abbott Matthews, an analyst at IJET International.

In the latter case, the Olympics organization has been dogged by work delays, bribery suspicions and faulty execution, as illustrated by the crumbling in April of a scenic, seaside waterway that was built as a legacy of the games to the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Preparedness has in fact been a concern throughout all of the construction of Rio’s Olympic structures, and a lack of focus on risk management may have played a role.

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The local organizers hired an experienced Brazilian risk manager to focus on enterprise risk management in 2013, but he left the next year after disagreements with his bosses. Since then, the position has not been filled.

Public speeches on risk management at the games have been delivered by a military police colonel who is in charge of security and who focuses mostly on policing issues.

In general, information on risk management systems and structures have not been made public, which has raised questions about the robustness of ERM at the Rio games.

“In large scale events, especially when there is taxpayers’ money involved, there is a deep obligation to have the most transparent processes in place,” said Joanna Makomaski, president of Baldwin Global Solutions, who was the vice president of ERM with the Toronto 2015 Organizing Committee of the Pan American Games.

Rodrigo Amaral is a freelance writer specializing in Latin American and European risk management and insurance markets. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

As a professor of business, Jack Hampton knows firsthand the positive impact education has on risk managers as they tackle growing risks.
By: | April 9, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

Ellen Thrower, president (retired), The College of Insurance, introduced me to the importance of insurance as a component of risk management. Further, she encouraged me to explore strategic and operational risk as foundation topics shaping the role of the modern risk manager.

Chris Mandel, former president of RIMS and Risk Manager of the Year, introduced me to the emerging area of enterprise risk management. He helped me recognize the need to align hazard, strategic, operational and financial risk into a single framework. He gave me the perspective of ERM in a high-tech environment, using USAA as a model program that later won an excellence award for innovation.

Bob Morrell, founder and former CEO of Riskonnect, showed me how technology could be applied to solving serious risk management and governance problems. He created a platform that made some of my ideas practical and extended them into a highly-successful enterprise that served risk and governance management needs of major corporations.

R&I: How did you come to work in this industry?

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From a background in corporate finance and commercial banking, I accepted the position of provost of The College of Insurance. Recognizing my limited prior knowledge in the field, I became a student of insurance and risk management leading to authorship of books on hazard and financial risk. This led to industry consulting, as well as to the development of graduate-level courses and concentrations in MBA programs.

R&I: What was your first job?

The provost position was the first job I had in the industry, after serving as dean of the Seton Hall University School of Business and founding The Princeton Consulting Group. Earlier positions were in business development with Marine Transport Lines, consulting in commercial banking and college professorships.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

Creating a risk management concentration in the MBA program at Saint Peter’s, co-founding the Russian Risk Management Society (RUSRISK), and writing “Fundamentals of Enterprise Risk Management” and the “AMA Handbook of Financial Risk Management.”

A few years ago, I expanded into risk management in higher education. From 2017 into 2018, Rowman and Littlefield published my four books that address risks facing colleges and universities, professors, students and parents.

Jack Hampton, Professor of Business, St. Peter’s University

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

The Godfather. I see it as a story of managing risk, even as the behavior of its leading characters create risk for others.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Jameson’s Irish whiskey. Mixed with a little ice, it is a serious rival for Johnny Walker Gold scotch and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

Mount Etna, Taormina, and Agrigento, Sicily. I actually supervised an MBA program in Siracusa and learned about risk from a new perspective.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

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Army Airborne training and jumping out of an airplane. Fortunately, I never had to do it in combat even though I served in Vietnam.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

George C. Marshall, one of the most decorated military leaders in American history, architect of the economic recovery program for Europe after World War II, and recipient of the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize. For Marshall, it was not just about winning the war. It was also about winning the peace.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Sharing lessons with colleagues and students by writing, publishing and teaching. A professor with a knowledge of risk management does not only share lessons. The professor is also a student when MBA candidates talk about the risks they manage every day.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

Sensitizing for-profit, nonprofit and governmental agencies to the exposures and complexities facing their organizations. Sometimes we focus too much on strategies that sound good but do not withstand closer examination. Risk managers help organizations make better decisions.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

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Developing executive training programs to help risk managers assume C-suite positions in organizations. Insurance may be a good place to start but so is an MBA degree. The Risk and Insurance Management Society recognizes the importance of a wide range of risk knowledge. Colleges and universities need to catch up with RIMS.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Cyber risk and its impact on hazard, operational and financial strategies. A terrorist can take down a building. A cyber-criminal can take down much more.

R&I: What does your family think you do?

My family members think I’m a professor. They do not seem to be too interested in my views on risk management.




Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]