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Global insurers compete to cover the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia


Billions of dollars in insurance coverage written by insurers from around the globe are in place for the 2014 Winter Olympics slated to begin Feb. 7 in Sochi, Russia.

The Lausanne, Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee has cancellation coverage through a revolving insurance program placed by Aon Benfield Group Ltd. that also covered the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Munich Reinsurance Co. and Swiss Re Ltd. are the lead reinsurers of that program, sources said. Both reinsurers confirmed they are involved in underwriting cancellation and abandonment coverage for the upcoming Olympics, which will feature athletes from 80 countries competing in 98 winter sporting events.

Munich Re has about $300 million in event cancellation exposure to the Sochi games, said Andrew Duxbury, the company's underwriting manager for contingency and special risks in London, though he declined to identify the specific policyholders.

Swiss Re has about $200 million in exposure to the Sochi games, with policyholders including the IOC and local organizers, said Tom Phillipson, head of special risks for Swiss Re Corporate Solutions in London.

Much of the coverage for the cancellation/abandonment coverage for the Sochi games is underwritten in the London market, several well-placed sources who asked not to be named said.


Altogether, with the IOC, Olympic sponsors and merchandisers, there's close to $3 billion of insurance coverage in place for the Winter Games, the sources said.

Most of the major Lloyd's syndicates are involved in underwriting coverage for the Winter Olympics, as are many leading international insurers and reinsurers, said Duncan Fraser, a partner in the specialty risks division and leader of the sports and entertainment practice at Jardine Lloyd Thompson Group P.L.C. in London. The Russian state also has some involvement in retaining and underwriting certain risks, Mr. Fraser said.

“The London market, and Lloyd's in particular, looks at the majority of major events worldwide,” said Chris Rackliffe, underwriter for political risks and contingency at Beazley P.L.C. in London.

He said underwriters participating in insuring the Sochi games — Russia's first Winter Olympics — typically will have signed nondisclosure agreements preventing them from releasing details of the insurance coverage.

While cancellation/abandonment coverage is always bought by organizing committees, sponsors, advertisers and merchandisers of large sporting events, a heightened risk of terrorism is one of the factors insurance buyers and insurers have been forced to consider ahead of these games, experts say.


The risk of a terrorist attack “is historically higher than it's ever been for an Olympic games,” said William Rathburn of Mineola, Texas-based Rathburn & Associates, who was in charge of police department planning for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and director of security for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

“This is the only Olympics in history where there has been an announced, credible threat well before the games,” Mr. Rathburn said.

Terrorism coverage can be included in cancellation coverage, and — if buyers have bought their policies sufficiently far in advance of the Olympic games — terrorism coverage likely will have been included at an affordable price in much of the insurance in place for the games, JLT's Mr. Fraser said. The IOC declined to comment on its cancellation coverage.

Terrorism coverage is available, and “right now there is a tremendous amount of capacity,” said Jennifer Rubin, vice president of terrorism, war and political risks for Hiscox Ltd. in New York.

In the wake of several terrorist threats made to national Olympic federations and recent terrorist activity in Russia — notably two suicide bombings in the central Russian city of Volgograd in December that killed 34 — terrorism has become the main concern with the Sochi games, sources said.

There was a 75% increase in the number of terrorist attacks in Russia in 2013, said Henry Wilkinson, head of the intelligence and analysis practice at London-based Risk Advisory Group P.L.C.


Mr. Wilkinson said while this raises questions about the vulnerability of the Sochi games, “the Russian authorities are taking the threat very seriously.” More than 40,000 law enforcement officers will handle security during the Winter Olympics.

While there are fears about the risk of a terrorist attack on mass transportation near the Olympic event venues in particular, the risk is not restricted to Sochi. Russia as a whole will be vulnerable to terrorist threats during the games which will end on Feb. 23, he said.

Although the Sochi games already being the subject of a credible terrorist threat “raises the stakes in terms of the risk environment,” a terrorist attack is not inevitable, said Mark Camillo, Washington-based senior vice president of Contemporary Services Corp. The former U.S. Secret Service special agent who was the Olympics coordinator for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, said security planners must do all they can to make the Olympics an unattractive target. “The preventive side of security planning is critical,” he said.

Raymond S. Mey, senior program manager at New York-based The Soufan Group and a former FBI agent who was manager for counterterrorism planning and operations in support of the 2002 Winter Olympics, said the Russian government can call on its military for reinforcement during the games.

Russian security planners also will have an undercover capability, and they will be on the lookout for members of separatist groups, Mr. Mey said. “Obviously, the big challenge there is the lone suicide bomber,” he said.

Fred Burton, vice president of intelligence at Austin, Texas-based Stratfor Global Intelligence and a former U.S. state department specialist who has worked at previous Olympics, said there will be elaborate layers of security close to the Olympics venues, but transportation and hotels farther away from the site may be at greater risk.