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Rugby tradition stopped by insurance concerns

One of Whistler’s longest running sport tournaments was cancelled last weekend due to insurance concerns.

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The Whistler rugby team was scheduled to host its 15th annual Sevens tournament last weekend but the event was cancelled because one of the municipalities’ insurers, Sport BC, stopped insuring rugby on March 31 and the team could not afford to sign with another insurer.

The Whistler Hoary Marmot’s coach and captain, John Gideon, was livid that the tournament had to be cancelled.

"This team is a really good local team, I mean we’ve got guys from all over the world in this team," said Gideon.

"We don’t want Whistler to become a corporate shell, which is what could happen if this kind of stuff is allowed to go on."

Aside from the rugby, the Whistler Sevens is an important event for the club because it provides the Marmots with some capital to pay for equipment.

"I’m pretty gutted because this is our major cash cow," said Gideon.

"We had at least 12 teams coming with at least 15 people per team with their support staff so that would have meant at least some money for us and it would have been good for the village."

The manager of Tapley’s, Donny Pashleigh, who founded the rugby club in Whistler, indicated that more sponsorship dollars were needed to solve problems with insurance in the future.

"I just think the rugby team has to get more organized unfortunately because that’s just the way it’s going to be, it’s going to cost money," said Pashleigh.

The Marmots could have sought insurance through their affiliated organization, the British Columbia Rugby Union, but according to Pashleigh the players would not have been able to cover the costs.

"The municipality wouldn’t insure us and the BCRU; to join them it’s $550 a team and $45 a player which is tough to pay, particularly when you’ve got a lot of transient players."

Murray Morrison from Sport BC admitted he didn’t know anything about the Whistler Sevens but he confirmed that rugby, like minor hockey and skateboarding, is classified as a high-risk sport.

"In 2002 there was a serious incident in Alberta where an individual they thought was going to be a quadriplegic, but he survived and recovered," said Morrison.

"In 2003 there was an individual that got injured severely, was paralyzed and unfortunately five days after, died from surgery.

"So as a result insurance companies are concerned that in the event of a claim the legal costs to defend that action would be huge – that’s the bottom line."

Another point several of the Marmots raised about insurance was the issue of damage-waivers – you play at your own risk.

Morrison said waivers would be an issue for the municipality in this case.

"That’s a question for the municipality, not us… a waiver will hold up for adults but you should know that that still doesn’t stop the individual from attempting to recover costs.

"We were involved in a rugby claim back in 1985 and our legal expenses exceeded half a million dollars.

"Insurance companies are not non-profit associations, if they don’t think they can make a dollar doing it then they won’t do it.

"They’re not community minded; if I could put it that way.

"So from that standpoint are they going to insure a rugby tournament for $200? Why would they?"

Diana Waltmann from the municipality said it was unfortunate the tournament was cancelled but was adamant the municipality could not allow tournaments to go on uninsured.

"It is a requirement of the municipality that if you’re booking a field you have to have liability insurance," said Waltmann.

"I can tell you that the municipality has been named in a lot of lawsuits, they don’t always win, but we’re named in a lot of them."

Waltmann recommended the rugby team seek insurance coverage from the BCRU, which would require some fundraising.

"It’s not that they weren’t allowed to play, they cancelled their own tournament because they couldn’t get insurance through Sport BC," said Waltmann.

"Most of the teams around here have insurance through their leagues and associations, but these guys (the rugby team) have been getting together on an ad-hoc basis for their games and practices."

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