David Owen

The drive for transparency in sport has yet to reach the key area of insurance.

The last time I asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) about details of its cover, such as had it submitted a Tokyo 2020 postponement claim and, if so, was it paid out, and did this leave it with any cancellation protection left, this was the reply I got; (do, please, bear with me).

"The IOC uses the international enterprise risk management standards ISO 31:000 for the identification, assessment and management of risks.

"Risk management is an essential part of the IOC’s work because it decreases the likelihood that unexpected events will adversely affect the organisation’s ability to achieve its objectives.

"One of the risk management tools we have in place and used to mitigate risks is a Games cancellation and abandonment insurance.

"This policy has been in place since the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad in Athens.

"The insurance policy would come into effect under certain unexpected events, as history has already witnessed, to allow IOC to cover part of its operational cost.

"Due to confidentiality clauses included in our agreements with our service providers, the IOC cannot disclose terms of its contracts.

"This is normal practice in the market.

"The publicly available information can be found in the IOC annual report under sections 3B (Financial risk management policy) and 19 (Olympic Games-related expenditure) of the financial statements."

Make of that what you will.

How much money the IOC has received in insurance pay-outs following the postponement of Tokyo 2020 is not yet known ©Getty Images
How much money the IOC has received in insurance pay-outs following the postponement of Tokyo 2020 is not yet known ©Getty Images

Yet the financial consequences of COVID and whether the pandemic will actually permit the postponed Games to be held as now planned - or not - are issues of capital importance to the international sports movement.

So I thought I would try to piece together what we may surmise.

These deductions may well turn out to be wide of the mark, but in the absence of much by way of input from those who actually know, it is the best I can offer.

Eventually, I would think, more hard information will be revealed.

I noticed on going back through last year’s events that articles on the subject often assessed the amount of protection taken out by the IOC at $800 million (£566 million/€658 million).

I do not know how this figure was arrived at.

However, one of the few things we do know is the amount the IOC spends on cancellation insurance: $14.4 million (£10.2 million/€11.8 million) for Rio 2016.

I would think someone who knows the insurance market could work out, on the assumption that a similar sort of agreement is likely to have been reached for Tokyo, approximately how much protection that magnitude of premium would buy.

It is also interesting to note that $800 million just happens to be the amount that the IOC said last May it expected the postponement of Tokyo 2020 to cost it.

That seems, well, jolly convenient.

Could it be, especially since some of the cost relates to an "aid package" for International Federations and National Olympic Committees (NOCs), that the IOC decided to try to limit additional disbursements to the postponement payout it expected its insurers to provide?

It seems a distinct possibility.

Tim Thornhill, a director at Tysers, has revealed that postponement costs are allowable and would be deductible from the maximum insurance pay-out ©Tysers
Tim Thornhill, a director at Tysers, has revealed that postponement costs are allowable and would be deductible from the maximum insurance pay-out ©Tysers

I would throw in two more points at this juncture.

1. One of the insurance specialists I consulted - Tim Thornhill, director at Tysers - suggested that very often with event-cancellation contracts, postponement costs are allowable while being deductible from the maximum amount payable under the agreement.

This is the exact quotation from Thornhill: "I have no direct knowledge of the IOC’s Tokyo 2020 cancellation insurance contract.

"Moreover, with such a complex event, one can be sure it will not be a standard contract.

"However, in standard event cancellation insurance contracts, it is generally permissible to claim for extra costs related to postponement of the insured event.

"Amounts paid out in response to a postponement claim would, though, be deducted from the insurer's maximum liability under the terms of the contract.

"If the amount of cancellation cover purchased was $10,000 (£7,000/€8,250) and a claim for $2,000 ($1,500/€1,700) of postponement costs was assessed and paid, the maximum payable in the event of subsequent cancellation would be $8,000 (£5,500/€6,500)."

Thornhill did add: "However it is possible to arrange policies where additional costs IN ADDITION to the limit of indemnity are covered where the limit for such additional costs is no greater than x per cent of the limit of indemnity."

Tysers, established even before the IOC in 1820, is a leading independent global insurance broker in the London market.

2. Swiss Re, which disclosed last year that it had a $250 million (£178 million/€206 million) exposure to Tokyo 2020, said last week that it had experienced $3.9 billion (£2.8 billion/€3.2 billion) of COVID-19-related claims and reserves in 2020.

There is no way of telling if the acknowledged Tokyo 2020 exposure is included in that amount. (Once again, I did ask.)

It would appear though that a lot of COVID-related claims are being made.

Swiss Re sells insurance to other insurers.

Olympic sponsors could ask for compensation if Tokyo 2020 do not go ahead in a normal fashion ©Getty Images
Olympic sponsors could ask for compensation if Tokyo 2020 do not go ahead in a normal fashion ©Getty Images

If my deductions so far are broadly right - again, who knows? - you can appreciate that the financial consequences of postponement for the movement should be very considerably mitigated.

The extra costs incurred by the IOC would essentially be covered by insurance, leaving the money generated by the Games later this year to be distributed around the Olympic ecosystem more or less as per usual.

Worldwide sponsors would almost certainly expect a degree of recompense, especially if crowds and hospitality options have to be limited, as may some broadcasters.

But, for one thing, this might have been factored into the IOC’s $800 million postponement-cost estimate.

For another, most of the corporations which might be concerned have long-term relationships with the IOC and could well be satisfied, at least in part, with the promise of additional non-cash benefits in future.

A very significant part of the headline value of the flagship The Olympic Partner (TOP) worldwide sponsorship programme is not cash in any case, but value-in-kind.

These last few paragraphs, of course, assume that Tokyo 2020 can take place later this year, as now planned.

Should this prove impossible and the Games have to be cancelled, in spite of the gargantuan efforts currently being expended, the financial consequences under this imagined, and very possibly erroneous, scenario - that the IOC had about $800 million of insurance cover largely used up to meet its extra postponement expenses - would get a whole lot messier.

Even if worldwide sponsors could be satisfied by ameliorating their benefits for future years - by no means certain - I would think almost all broadcast income relating to the cancelled Games might be lost.

By my estimate, that could amount to around $3 billion (£2 billion/€2.5 billion).

The IOC might have been expecting to generate something like $7 billion (£5 billion/€5.75 billion) in revenue over the 2017-2020 quadrennium; this would be up from something of the order of $5.6 billion (£4 billion/€4.6 billion) in 2013-2016.

Broadly speaking then, the loss of Tokyo 2020 broadcast revenue might lop 40 per cent off anticipated revenues for the cycle, and an even higher proportion off anticipated cash inflows.

Under such circumstances, the wider Movement would be entitled to expect the IOC to make some savings in central running costs; the absence of a Summer Games might in itself yield savings from expected operational budgets, for example the bulk of the IOC’s planned broadcasting costs.

But most of the shortfall would, on the face of it, have to be taken from projected distributions to the rest of the movement over the 2021-2024 period - either that or plucked out of reserves, or just conceivably borrowed.

The IOC has several billion dollars in assets ©Getty Images
The IOC has several billion dollars in assets ©Getty Images

The IOC is certainly well provided for on the asset front: at end-2019, the body’s total assets stood at $5.3 billion (£3.75 billion/€4.4 billion), with the fund balance said to total $2.5 billion (£1.8 billion/€2.1 billion).

But if the pandemic has taught us anything about business, it is the importance of a shock-absorbing cushion to tide one over when something big and unexpected occurs.

So I suspect the IOC would be reluctant to draw down its rainy day funds by too much if it could possibly avoid it.

My own number-crunching revealed that more than 30 per cent of 2013-2016 revenues were handed over to Games Organising Committees, much of this presumably in value-in-kind goods and services rather than cash.

I can imagine Paris 2024 might take a dim view of any attempt to row back on its expected $1.7 billion (£1.2 billion/€1.4 billion) IOC contribution and Beijing 2022 is less than a year away.

That would leave payments to International Federations (13.8 per cent of 2013-2016 revenues), NOCs (18.1 per cent) and perhaps culture and heritage (2.3 per cent) as possible targets for savings.

Some such bodies have worthwhile reserves of their own; others are heavily dependent on their IOC dividends.

In the absence of much by way of hard information, this is, to repeat, nothing more than an attempt by one journalist to think through what the pre-Tokyo 2020 situation might look like.

It would be better by far if those who know spelled out with candour and clarity what the situation actually does look like.

Right now, the prospects of organisers being able to mount enough of a show in Japan to keep broadcasters at least moderately happy appear to be brightening somewhat.

Let us hope they continue to do so.