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MEDICAL INSURANCE FOR INDIAN ATHLETES : A LOST CAUSE?



This post has been authored by Ms Chitrita Nayak.



  • Chitrita is a second-year student of law at the prestigious OP Jindal Global University and a Research Intern at the JGU Centre for Sports Law, Business and Governance.


INTRODUCTION


Medical insurance refers to an insurance policy taken to cover the cost of medical care. Over time, the scope of medical care has undergone various changes resulting in the emergence of new fields like post-surgery rehabilitation. Athletes, on the other hand, essentially spend their entire career avoiding health hazards to achieve success. Along with these changes, India’s insurance sector has also undergone sweeping changes, with micro-specialisation as a current trend in its policies. Insurance in the strict sense is studied under contract law. However, several topical and novel issues arise in this subject area, when it is analyzed at the intersection with sports law. This article will examine the disparity exhibited by India’s sports governance policies vis-a-vis sports other than cricket. Further, the risk-taking capacity of federations is also an essential factor in construing potential measures that the governing bodies can undertake to ensure an inclusive insurance policy.


EXPANDING THE SCOPE OF MEDICAL CARE FOR ATHLETES


In 2006, Hockey player Sandeep Singh was left paralysed from the torso and below due to an accidental shooting on board the Kalka Shatabdi express. It led to a long battle of recovery for Sandeep involving physiotherapy and rehabilitation. Sandeep was destined to represent the country at the FIH World Cup in Germany. Unfortunately, no assistance was provided by the Sports Authority of India (“SAI”) or the Indian Olympic Association (“IOA”). There are numerous medical facilities throughout the country that recognise the growing trend of post-surgical care as well as counselling. Cricket, on the other hand, happens to be much more structured. In 2014, the BCCI spent approximately Rs. 25 Crore for paying the premium on insurance coverage encompassing trophies, players, and equipment for the T20 and IPL events. The board even ensured a compensation of Rs. 25 Lakhs to the family of deceased player Ankit Keshri, who succumbed to injuries from an on-field collision at a club game in Kolkata. This elaborative security and compensation cover essentially cements the status of Cricket as a popular sport and provide freedom to budding athletes from the aftereffects of grievous injuries.


Securing insurance is a tedious process for sports that fall under the category of “high-risk.” The Indian Boxing Federation (“IBF”) has, for years, tried to seek an insurance partner/s to act in accordance with the revised set of international guidelines provided by the AIBA. Several noteworthy companies like Oriental Insurance, ICICI Lombard, and so on, have been approached by the IBF to expand the scope of insurance and include complicated surgeries to resolve injuries to the head, spinal cord, rehabilitation, and possible therapy. Sanjay Dutta, then head of liabilities division of Lombard said in an interview, ‘If boxers are covered, then it is personal accident and not loss of earning.’ In 2015, the national insurance scheme Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana was used by the IBF to assist women boxers who have won medals, in an attempt to encourage women across the country to enter the sport. The said move received a lot of criticism due to its extremely narrow scope.


The other factor that becomes problematic for athletes in securing a wholesome insurance package is lack of awareness. In 2011, the Karnataka government introduced the Yuva Krida Sanjeevini scheme to provide medical insurance to athletes, free of cost. In 2013, high jumper KC Chandana suffered severe injuries to her thigh, hip, and nose that kept her out of the ring for more than a year and halted her participation in the Asian Games. Only after a long tedious battle with her injuries, Chandana was informed about her eligibility as a beneficiary in the state insurance scheme. This is just one in the long line of cases where athletes were unaware about the existence of support schemes introduced by the State governments like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh Assam, Sikkim, and Meghalaya, etc.


INSURANCE POLICIES AND INSTANCES OF ATHLETE PROTECTION


Even among countries like the United Kingdom, and Australia, there exists several lacunae when it comes to a single nation-wide insurance scheme/programme with an extensive coverage. An organised governance structure, however, helps the cause of commercialised sports like Cricket, or Football much better than other lesser popular sports.


Injury is an unavoidable part of the professional pursuit of a sport. Therefore, it becomes imperative that the government takes steps to assist athletes with the recovery process. There are a number of insurance policies that can be made available to athletes. To begin with, a Life Insurance takes care of an athlete in case of disability, accident, and even an untimely death. Health insurance is the one that is most commonly sought after by numerous athletes across several sports, regardless of the cost. The important thing in consideration here is that a budding athlete does not have a steady source of income. Except for the commercially successful sports like Cricket, Tennis, Football, among some others, there are many sports that may not necessarily have an organised federation to act as their representative. In addition, these organisations may not even have strong monetary backing to help support these young sportspersons.


Another form of insurance is a Career Ending Injury Insurance, which can be availed of when an athlete’s career is cut short by injury, illness, or death, eventually leading to a sudden loss in income. This can be catastrophic not only for the athletes themselves, but also for their families. Such a policy, has been a private initiative, by companies like LIFT-Insurance, Miller Insurance, and several others. Some of the world’s leading athletes have availed of a career-ending insurance. Legendary footballer Cristiano Ronaldo has his legs insured for a policy worth 120-130 Million Euros in case of any life-altering injury. German football team’s goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer availed of such policy way back in 2014 and has successfully insured his hands for 3 Million Euros. A two-time Formula One champion, Spanish Athlete Fernando Alonso had his thumbs insured for 10 Million Euros in the year 2010 by a Spanish bank.


At this point, after weighing a slew of factors like availability, access, and urgency, one can come to a point where a National Policy for securing a simple insurance for all athletes, irrespective of sport, eligibility, age, seems mandatory. There is a clear preference for structuring the governance models of the more profitable sports. An equal preference and organised effort for all kinds of sports will act as a stimulating factor for young athletes to look at sports, more than a hobby.


INDIAN SPORTS GOVERNANCE


In 2014, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (“MYAS”) in India established the Target Olympics Podium Scheme (“TOPS”) to identify athletes as potential Olympic medallists and provide them with adequate insurance. In addition to this, the TOPS Elite Athletes’ Identification Committee identified a potential group of athletes who had a higher incidence of being potential medallists for the Olympics in 2024 as well as the Los Angeles Games in 2028.


While sponsored athletes like PV Sindhu (badminton) and Sakshi Malik (wrestling) gained success at the Rio Olympics and the Commonwealth Games, the scheme deserves an investigation into its identification procedure, including the shadow expenditure of the Ministry only on athletes who they think can represent India at an international level. The athletes competing at State and National levels, and junior level athletes seem to have been eliminated from the scope of the scheme itself. On the plus side however, the official insurance partner for the scheme is Oriental Insurance, a private company which has the resources and experience to provide the targeted athletes with a secure, and all-inclusive insurance cover.


There are a number of factors that increase the disparity between the athletes benefitted by the TOP scheme and other athletes who were unsuccessful in getting listed with the scheme. One of these factors is the sheer economic inequality in India, where a horde of young athletes seek to play sports, only to avail a concession in fee at educational institutions. Another factor that comes into play is the requirement of extreme hard work and expert coaching for playing the game at the top level on professional circuits, with access to the latter being dangerously absent. There are also several socio-cultural problems that plague an athlete’s journey with the sport, with caste and gender based discrimination being at the root of multiple issues. The problem comes back to a lack of organisational and monetary support in the sports governance policies which makes it more difficult for athletes to pursue sports as a profession other than just a hobby.


CONCLUSION


Indian sports governance has certainly come a long way, but at what cost? We must realise that to an athlete, sports is not just a hobby, it is a passion, their sole source of earning a livelihood. Just like any other citizen is dependent on a duly elected government, an athlete is also dependent on the government of the very country that they would one day represent in an international stadium. Ensuring that athletes receive the insurance cover that they deserve is not only desirable, but certainly a measure that can be achieved. The MYAS is the solution to all of the above mentioned problems of lack of an insurance policy, all the way till creating awareness about these programmes. A uniform, national policy for providing a well-rounded medical insurance is, and has, always been the need of the hour, the implementation of which will require a change in the very Governance Structure of Sports in India. From a general insurance to event cancellation/interruption, general liability, career-ending insurance, it would be a wonderful initiative if the government can involve leading insurance companies like Bajaj FinServ, Oriental Insurance, etc., who are leading the race in not only providing a range of insurance policies to athletes but are also recognising the need for a wholesome health care policy, which covers everything from trauma to post-surgical rehabilitation and therapy. In the words of the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, ‘Good Governance cannot remain merely a philosophy. Concrete steps have to be taken for realizing its goals.


The authors can be reached for comments on their email at 19jgls-chitrita.mn@jgu.edu.in


Cite as: Chitrita Nayak, Medical Insurance for Indian Athletes: A Lost Cause?, Extra-Cover: The Sports Law Blog of India (08th June 2021), Accessed at https://www.extra-cover.org/post/medical-insurance-for-indian-athletes-a-lost-cause [Date of Access].