The Coach Speaks Out!

The Coach Speaks Out on Insurance
with Mike Lushington

    It does seem, at least from time to time, that insurance companies run the way we live.

    Several volunteer organisations in the Maritimes have had to suspend or cancel programs for disadvantaged children over the past few summers because they can no longer find a company willing to provide insurance coverage for their activities. This is despite the fact that the organisations have never had any claims and have provided safe and important services, in at least one case, for more than fifty years.

    Most individuals who volunteer to work with kids probably break the law on occasion when it comes to insurance. They are not supposed to give kids drives to or from any activity. They are supposed to be fully certified by some organisation before giving their time to these young people. They are not supposed to be alone with a group of kids at any time, especially if gender is a consideration. And, they are not supposed to show any signs of affection whatever - no pats on the back, no hugs, no "high-fives" or anything else that might be considered offensive to someone.

    Is it really any wonder that fewer people are coming forward to volunteer to work with kids and that increasing numbers of those who currently do so are dropping out?

    There are two issues at the heart of the matter here. One of them is the fear that someone will be hurt while taking part in an activity, which includes the transportation to or from the area where the activity is practiced. The other, unfortunately, is the monster of sexual abuse. Individuals and organisations with no history of such problems are in the vast majority in this country, yet they are being penalised for the actions of a few. Unfortunately, the nature of the penalty is not just public suspicion; it is of a financial nature, coupled with legislation, that either drives organisations to close their doors or, as I mentioned above, forces individuals to break those laws because they simply cannot afford to comply with them.

    What is to be done? To start with, I think that we have to review some fundamental principles about the nature of physical activity and about the spirit of volunteering. Sport and physical activity in general have some risk to them. Some activities are inherently more dangerous than are others. No one should be rock-climbing, hang gliding, or mountain bike racing, for example, without being aware that serious injuries can happen as natural outcomes of such activities. People have choices about whether they participate in them and organisers of such activities have a legal and a moral obligation to insure that the risks are confined to those that are inherent in the activities themselves. Coaches and organisers alike have to be aware of the risks and do what is reasonable and prudent to control them. (For example, a tree that has fallen across a mountain bike competition trail is the responsibility of race organisers; faulty equipment or overly aggressive actions on the part of a competitor is not.)

    People volunteer, as coaches, officials, and program organisers, because they care for kids. They are not going to jeopardise the well-being of those young people. Somehow they have to be allowed to continue to provide those services without being punished financially to the point where they can no longer afford to offer their services, or to where they are driven "underground." It may very well be that some form of public liability insurance, operated by the government, together with a clear understanding of responsibility on the part of all concerned is what is going to be required if we expect that our kids will continue to have opportunities to participate in organised sport and other forms of physical activity in the years to come.

    Yours sincerely,

Mike Lushington, Dalhousie


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