‘Children may not be covered for sports injuries’

Parents unaware they may have to pay medical bills, expert warns

‘Children may not be covered for sports injuries’

Thousands of children who play sport may not be covered for the cost of injuries, parents have been warned.

Professor Jack Anderson, of Queen’s University Belfast, who specialises in sports law, said the vast majority of parents do not realise they may have to pay the medical bills. He cited a recent survey by the HSE that one in three attending one of its minor injury units in 2016 — some 33,000 cases — presented with an injury suffered playing sport.

“To be fair, leading sports bodies provide overall cover, in terms of injury benefit or compulsory group schemes, but there are understandable restrictions on these, in terms of the type of club membership you have, when and where the injury occurs, the gravity of the injury, and the extent of payouts,” Prof Anderson said.

Some clubs have benefit funds and may incorrectly believe that this, combined with public liability insurance, can act as personal accident cover that would provide for injuries. “These schemes are not strictly insurance schemes, though, and sports governing bodies also ask clubs to be properly and adequately insured, and will provide them with access to discounts with favoured insurance partners. I can find no available data on the extent to which clubs avail of same,” he said.

“It could be said that parents have a responsibility, but, although it is not hugely expensive, having specific or top-up personal accident cover for your child’s sporting activities, outside of what you think their membership of that sport provides, is not something parents, including me, would necessarily have thought about,” Prof Anderson said.

The Irish Examiner asked the GAA, FAI, and IRFU what cover, if any, they have for underage players.

The GAA said all players accept the risk of injury, and that the responsibility to ensure they have adequate cover lies with the parents.

“There is no obligation, legal or otherwise, on any sporting body to provide personal accident cover for participants,” a spokesperson said. “However, the GAA, including LGFA and camogie, make it compulsory on our clubs to have a level of cover in place for our members. The benefits and terms of cover differ across the GAA, LGFA, and camogie, but, essentially, all playing members of Gaelic games are provided with some level of cover, in the event of accidental injury when playing our games.”

“In the case of the GAA, the benefit cover is not backed by a policy of insurance, but, rather, claims costs are met entirely from GAA funds, through subscriptions paid by clubs and €3m payment from central council”.

The IRFU referred to a section on its website outlining insurance issues for clubs and players. While it has a group personal accident scheme, which is compulsory for all affiliated clubs, this only pays out if a player loses one or both eyes, limbs, suffers ‘permanent total disablement’, or dies.

“Whilst the union and the clubs can arrange substantial insurance benefit within their financial means, it still ultimately remains the individual player’s responsibility,” a letter from the IRFU to clubs states.

“It is emphasised that this compulsory scheme does not provide payment of medical expenses or loss of earnings, nor does it cover fatal collapse unless a physical accident precedes same.”

The FAI did not reply to queries. However, rule 40 in the FAI rule book states that while an affiliated club “may” arrange insurance to provide for medical fees or a loss of earnings for any player “injured while playing football in circumstances approved by his club... it is not compulsory”.

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