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Risk Management

Watching the World Cup? 5 Times Animals Posed Risks to International Games

Critters of all shapes and sizes have presented unique risk management challenges for sporting event organizers.
By: | June 28, 2018 • 5 min read

Over one month, 32 teams from around the global compete in a total of 64 matches, spread over 12 venues in 11 different cities. At least 1 million spectators will descend on Russia to watch the 2018 FIFA World Cup live, while millions more view from living room couches and barstools around the world.

Any event on such a scale comes with unique risk management challenges.

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“The challenges are unique to when and where an event is held,” said David Boyle, contingency underwriter, ArgoGlobal. “The organizing committee for an international sporting event like the World Cup has to think about the safety of players, staff and spectators, the political climate and any potential for civil unrest, cyber exposures, environmental exposures and legacy exposures associated with facilities abandoned once the games are done, among many others.”

But one that even the most astute of risk managers may overlook? Animal exposures.

“You have to think about the welfare of any animals involved in the event itself, as well as the threats to human welfare that local wildlife may pose,” said Joanna Makomaski, president, Baldwin Global Risk solutions, and a member of the Organizing Committee of the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games.

Here are some ways that critters of all shapes and sizes have presented unique risk management challenges for sporting event organizers:

1. Kangaroo goalie interrupts soccer game in Australia.

A local marsupial couldn’t resist getting in on the action at a National Premier League soccer match in Canberra, Australia on June 26. After clearing a fence, the ’roo hopped onto the field and took up residence in front of a goal post. A pickup truck was eventually used to chase the animal away from the game.


Fully grown kangaroos can range from five to seven feet tall and weigh in at 60 to 200 pounds. In addition to powerful kicks, they can deliver deep gashes with the nails on their front paws. Getting too close risks serious injury.

While this was one match and not a multi-event spectacle, it demonstrates that the security of outdoor venues should consider threats beyond human beings.

Stadiums for events like the World Cup or Olympics are often erected solely for the purpose of those games, and may be intruding on the natural habitat of a variety of creatures. Event organizers have to consider not only how their presence impacts the environment, but how the environment might in turn impact the games.

2. Geese halt men’s water skiing in Pan Am games.

Water skiers at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto were similarly interrupted by local wildlife. This time, a flock of geese decided it wanted a front row seat to the men’s slalom event. While the geese didn’t pose as much of a safety threat, their interruption does have consequences for the outcome of the competition and the organization of the games.

One Chilean skier, for example, had to restart the course after a goose blocked his route. He could argue that the distraction threw him off and lead to a poorer performance. Or, if he did well, his competitors could allege that the second chance allowed him an unfair advantage.

In the end, disputes could come down to faulting the organizing committee for poor planning.

Any delays caused by the roving geese could also impact scheduling of events for the rest of the day, which could in turn affect the plans of third parties like TV broadcasters, food and drink vendors, or even spectators.

3. Wild dog euthanizations draw international ire at Sochi Olympics.

Ahead of the 2015 Winter Olympics in Sochi, local authorities planned to put down more than 2,000 stray dogs roaming the streets, fearing they could be a danger to visitors.

David Boyle, contingency underwriter, ArgoGlobal

After a few video-recorded euthanizations went viral, animal rights activists launched counter campaigns and began rounding up the dogs themselves and moving them to shelters on the outskirts of the city. But not before the government’s actions gained worldwide criticism.

While the presence of the dogs ultimately did not interrupt the Games or pose a safety threat to visiting spectators, they did open the door for condemnation of the local authorities and potential protests.

It’s incumbent upon the organizing committee to communicate and coordinate with local authorities to manage any safety risks and determine the best course of action.

“Communication with local regulators and law enforcement is absolutely critical to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding a safety and security plan,” Boyle said.

4. Animal athletes in Rio come with an Olympic-sized price tag.

The set of challenges changes when the animals are the athletes.

More than 200 horses competing in dressage, jumping and evening in the 2016 Summer Olympics had to travel to Rio de Janeiro from 43 countries, requiring freight planes outfitted with temperature-controlled, custom-designed horse stalls attended by specialists called “Flying Grooms.” A report by the Miami Herald said their transport cost roughly $20,000 to $25,000 per horse, mostly covered by the Olympic Organizing Committee.

The Committee is also responsible for the horses’ on-site stay.

To stock each horse’s 170 square-foot stall, the Committee reportedly shipped in 50 tons of Timothy (a type of hay) from the U.S., 10 tons of Bermuda grass, three tons of alfalfa, four tons of carrots, a half-ton of apples, and 6,000 pounds of oat and corn cereal grains.

According to a report by The Daily Telegraph, top-range show jumping horses at the Olympics range between $700,000 and $15 million in value, so the stakes for protecting these animals are high.

5. Trained monkeys take up security posts.

You’ve seen bomb-sniffing dogs at the airport and patrolling venues. Organizers of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, however, took it a step further.

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Athletes complained that the intrusion of wild monkeys, snakes and dogs was making their living quarters unsafe and threatened to boycott the event. So organizers turned to an unconventional yet simple solution.

They recruited local Langur monkeys to drive the offenders off.

Langur monkeys are known for their aggression, which makes them suitable defenders, but are also known for intelligence, which makes them amenable to being trained. Handlers from the Delhi suburbs were brought in to scope the athletes’ village and keep the more dangerous predators away — a more effective and cost-conscious solution than hiring extra security workforce.

In the case of this year’s World Cup, no known animal threats have yet emerged — except a cadre of creatures allegedly able to predict winners and losers. The only risk they pose, however, is to the wallets of superstitious sports bettors. &

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

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]