Premiership players face having to sign disclaimers before returning to training due to fears clubs and their doctors will not have the necessary insurance policies in place to cover against coronavirus claims, a leading sports lawyer has warned.
World Rugby has issued guidelines urging clubs and unions to ensure they are “adequately insured” but there is considerable doubt as to whether insurance companies would offer that level of indemnity before players return to their clubs.
Richard Cramer of Front Row Legal believes there will also be serious concern among club doctors, who would want full insurance cover before players return – with the Premiership hopeful they can resume training on 1 June. Without that level of protection, players could be required to sign waivers.
“Clubs need to be very wary of exposing themselves to claims,” Cramer told the Observer. “Where I would be nervous if I was a club is just seeing what the insurance market is doing. As a club, I don’t think you can have any high degree of confidence that the existing insurance policies would indemnify the club. So potentially the clubs are taking a risk getting back on the playing field and exposing players.
“If I was in that situation I would certainly be wanting to make sure that full insurance is in place, but they might not get a decision from insurers for some time. In which case, doctors and medical teams will have to cover their own backs and there may have to be new types of disclaimers signed by the clubs and the players, because certainly a doctor would not want that level of responsibility.
“I’m not saying that a disclaimer would get a club out of trouble but it does make it more difficult to bring a claim. But it may be regarded as an unfair variation of a contract to sign a disclaimer to waive any claims arising from Covid-19.”
World Rugby has advised players to complete a daily questionnaire as part of a screening process on returning to training. The governing body also stated that “all unions should ensure that their policies require written confirmation from players and staff that they understand the risks involved in returning to training and playing”.
Signing disclaimer forms would raise serious legal concerns, however, with the World Players’ Association, which represents around 85,000 sportsmen and women including rugby players “We have seen some research that athletes may be particularly vulnerable to serious symptoms,” said the union’s executive director, Brendan Schwab.
“We are concerned that some sports bodies are trying to place the economic and legal risk of contracting the disease on to players and that is something which we think should not be tolerated.”
And while the issue has already reared its head within the Premier League’s Project Restart, Cramer believes it is all the more complicated in rugby . “It’s a bit easier in football because there is less physical contact,” he said.
“It’s very different in rugby and that’s why there has been talk of disbanding scrummaging. The biggest danger is that with players who are training at their maximum peak, often their immune systems are lower because of the physical exertions they put on their body.
“Personally, I think players might quite like the idea of getting back to work and training, but when it comes to that key moment of no turning back, they’ll want that high degree of comfort that they’re medically safe. If I was advising a player I would want to know exactly what level of insurance is in place and what the player is covered for.”