U.S. News

Insurers foot $5 billion risk with soccer World Cup

Christian Kraemer

Soccer teams and fans aren't the only ones girding themselves for the start of the World Cup in South Africa. The world's insurance companies have sold policies covering $5 billion worth of risks linked to the games.

With just a month to go before the starting whistle blows on the first match -- pitting the host's national team against Mexico -- soccer world governing body FIFA, national organizers, broadcasters, travel firms, advertising agencies and sponsors have all taken out policies against cancellation or disaster.

Naturally, the $5 billion of contingency and other risks is spread among many insurers, but some of the biggest chunks of risk will be passed on to the sector's two biggest players, reinsurers Munich Re and Swiss Re.

Reinsurers act as a financial backstop for risks too big for smaller insurance companies to handle on their own, such as if a militant attack or earthquake puts a stop to the tournament.

Munich Re is holding about $350 million of exposure, said Sabine Bach, head of contingency risk at the world's biggest reinsurer. "That's not chicken feed. We have got the biggest share of insurers' risks," Bach said.

World No. 2 reinsurer Swiss Re is also covering a triple digit million amount, said company special risks specialist Hans J.R. Steffen.

Europe's biggest insurer Allianz and No. 4 reinsurer Hannover Re also hold World Cup risks.

While insured risk for the games, to be played from June 11 to July 11 for the first time on African soil, may not be as big as some natural catastrophes such as hurricanes or earthquakes or man-made disasters such as the sunken oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, they are prestige business for the industry.

Just as they did for the Olympics, whole teams are working to figure out the mathematical dangers and therefore make the risk insurable.


South Africa has won kudos from the insurance industry for its handling of big international sporting events such as the rugby and cricket world cups.

"Naturally the soccer World Cup is bigger, but South Africa has shown that they can do it," said Munich Re's Bach. "The cancellation risk is no higher than in many other countries," she said.

However, the country still faces some caveats, such as the risk of hail, flooding, earthquakes or power failures.

"For an additional premium, the risk of war or a terror attack can also be covered," said Swiss Re's Steffen, adding that some organizers had taken up the offer.

War is seen as no more than a remote risk, while security measures surrounding the games mean the chances of a terrorist attack are little different from the 2006 World Cup in Germany or the 2008 European Cup championships in Austria and Switzerland.

Still, reinsurers have taken everything into consideration.

"The worst-case scenario would be a terror attack at the opening ceremony in a stadium with several thousand dead," said Swiss Re's Steffen.

For Munich Re's Bach, the fear is of no grand finale.

"If the television screens were blank, that would be bad."