World Cup Starts in Germany

By | June 9, 2006

5:00 p.m. on a Friday is usually associated with “TGIF” as the weekend begins. However, for much of the world this Friday at 5:00 p.m. (local time) it marks the beginning of a very special sporting event – the quadrennial soccer tournament known as the World Cup.

Thiry-two teams – the finalists after the elimination rounds – will compete for the World’s most coveted sporting trophy. An insurance industry presence will also be evident throughout the event.

The first game features the host nation Germany against the outsiders Costa Rica in Munich’s newly built 59,000-capacity Allianz Arena. The giant Munich based-insurer was the prime mover in the construction of the state of the art facility, which opened May 30, 2005. Brazil’s legendary striker, Pele, who helped this year’s favorites win the World Cup in 1958, 1962 and 1970, will present the trophy in the opening ceremonies. Just to make sure the futuristic stadium is jammed, he’ll be assisted by German supermodel Claudia Schiffer.

For most Americans “football” describes the U.S. game, derived from rugby, played by human armored tanks. For the rest of the world it means the game played with just a round ball by grown men in shorts and jerseys.

Professional soccer has yet to attain the status in the U.S. that it enjoys in the rest of the world. But this doesn’t mean Americans are ignoring the World Cup, or that the U.S. team is going to be a pushover. According to the FIFA rankings the U.S. is currently 5th in the world – tied with Spain, but ahead of such traditional soccer powerhouses as England, France, Italy and Germany – so hopes are high that the team will live up to expectations.

For more information on the World Cup go to www.fifa.com.

Overall there will be 64 games in 12 different cities, culminating in the final in Berlin on July 9. The number of matches and the differing venues pose both security and coverage problems.

According to Swiss Re, which is a major insurer for the tournament, the World Cup and the Olympic Games are the most heavily insured sporting events. The broadcasting rights alone have an estimated value of CHF 2 billion [$1.66 billion]. There’s also a great deal of concern with security. 21 of the 64 matches have been classified as “high risk” by Germany’s Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The security problems range from hooliganism to outright terrorist threats.

In an interview on the Swiss Re Website (www.swissre.com), Peter Luck, Head of Underwriting Special Risks gave some details on the coverage. “The German organizers purchased a cover for postponement into 2007 and for total cancellation / abandonment from a whole syndicate of insurers in the value of approximately €150 million [$191 million]. Another liability cover was purchased to cover damages up to €140 million [$179 million]. Accident covers, finally, were also considered, indemnifying visitors to games in the case of death or disability. In 2003, FIFA, on the other hand, issued a catastrophe bond worth an equivalent of $260 million to cover the risk of a cancellation of the World Cup 2006 in Germany. The bond covers marketing revenue that FIFA would have to refund if the matches were cancelled due to natural catastrophes and terrorism.”

There’s also coverage on an individual level, not only for the players, but also for the fans. An England supporter, Paul Hucker, 34, purchased a £1 million ($1.8422 million) insurance policy against England suffering early elimination from the World Cup. He reportedly paid £105 ($193.43) for the coverage. In order to collect, however, not only do the English have to exit early, but he would also have to prove with medical evidence that he has suffered an emotional or psychological trauma as a result. The fact that he might actually be able to do so testifies to the dedication (or maybe the fanaticism – the root after all of the term “fan”) of soccer enthusiasts the world over.

Soccer is a bit like baseball and cricket. You have to have grown up with it (or watched your kids grow up with it) in order to appreciate it. To the uninitiated it can appear boring, but its usually low scores don’t mean there’s no action or drama. How exciting after all would it be for someone who’s never seen a baseball game to watch a no-hitter? It would look like two guys playing catch for two hours.

The fact that more people attend soccer (football) games in person or watch them on TV than any other sport shows that it must have something going for it. Perhaps it’s the sheer simplicity of the game (except of course for the offside rule). According to FIFA, “an accumulated audience of over 37 billion people watched the France 98 tournament, including approximately 1.3 billion for the final alone.” An even greater audience awaits the start of Germany 2006.

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