Intercollegiate Goes International: What You Need to Know About Taking Your Team Abroad

On November 14, 2015, the University of Washington Huskies and the University of Texas Longhorns men’s basketball teams played a game far from home, 5,000 miles from home that is.  Their first basketball game of the season took place at the Mercedez-Benz Area in Shanghai as part of a larger effort to expand the global presence of the teams and promote the American model of intercollegiate athletics.

Globalization is an important strategy for universities, and athletics are a large part of that.  Taking sports and other events into foreign countries helps schools increase their reach and advance their reputations, while also attracting fans and new students. College teams have been playing special exhibition games in other countries for years, but this most recent event marks the start of a conference-wide effort to play season-openers in China and other countries.

The benefits of global play are obvious, but what about the risks to your students and your school? It is important to understand and review potential exposures before making a trip abroad in order to plan for and prevent unexpected issues.

Approval of Travelers

All students should be required to meet certain requirements before being approved to participate in any sporting event abroad. These requirements should include academic standing, health guidelines, and behavioral standards.  The approval process will help to ensure that your students are in good health and can adhere to behavioral expectations in a foreign country.  This process should be applied consistently to all student athletes, with no exceptions being made for star athletes.

Additional Risk Considerations

Make sure to consider these additional items before your trip in order to plan for every possible exposure:

  • Air Travel: Is the team flying together? Are you using a commercial airline or a chartered plane? Insurance terms commonly exclude chartered transportation of any kind outside of the United States; does your institutional insurance cover those risks?
  • Insurance Coverage: Your insurance may also exclude athletic activities.  Does the NCAA provide coverage?  Do your students have their own health insurance, and does their domestic insurance provide adequate coverage?
  • Global Medical: Has each student participant, support staff and volunteer proven that they have a global medical policy in place? Is there a mandatory hard waiver for this requirement before they are approved for the trip?
  • Kidnap and Ransom: Does your school have kidnap and ransom coverage? Group travel heightens the risk for criminal activities.  The team should avoid wearing identifiable clothing except on the field of play because it will draw attention to the group as potential targets for theft, kidnap and other crimes.
  • Property: What equipment will be transported?  Is it owned by the school or the individual?  Is it properly insured against damage or loss, and who holds the coverage?  Can the students play safely if the equipment does not get to the destination?
  • Emergency Action Plan: What medical resources for your Emergency Action Plan need to be vetted in advance?
  • Training: Have all chaperones and coaches been properly trained on the emergency protocols and expectations of the school while traveling, including if a coach, chaperone or participating student must stay behind while the group travels on?
  • Health Limitations: What conditions will the athletes be facing?  Will they be given sufficient time and accommodation to acclimate themselves to things such as time zone, elevation and dietary changes; weather conditions like extreme heat or humidity; and air quality and pollution conditions?  Will any of the pre-trip vaccine requirements affect their physical sustainability for the duration of play?

Many countries are fascinated with American sports because they are so unique to the United States.  The globalization of U.S. college sports is an important endeavor, and by creating a synergy between academics and athletics, athletics programs can benefit along with the universities themselves.  With a conference-wide initiative to expand play into other countries, it probably won’t be long before this initiative trickles down to the high school level as well.

These expansion efforts present their own unique sets of risks, and it is critically important to identify and plan for these exposures.   RCM&D’s team of expert consultants is here to help you.  Please contact our skilled Education Practice or Special Risk Division to discuss your global medical, liability and property insurance needs.