International Team Travel and Preparing for Risks Across Borders

The number of travel policy related requests and questions has increased at the SLSG in recent months, and the importance of preparing for international team travel feels greater than ever.  Canadian sport organizations want to know how they can mitigate their risk for teams or delegations that are travelling outside of Canada for events and training camps. The number of extreme weather incidents are growing, the number of violent activities in metropolitan cities around the world appear to be rising, and the overall anxiety of the general population is ever-present in the news and on social media. As a result, the baseline standard of care employed by sport organizations is also trending upwards as athletes, parents, coaches, staff and volunteers want to feel safe on their travels.

In addition to fostering a safe environment for their teams, sport organizations also want to mitigate their financial or operational losses and any reputational damage that can occur as a result of travel related risks. Some of the international travel risks that Canadian sport organizations commonly share with us include:

  • Lack of proper documentation for participants
  • Lack of safety and security measures in host location
  • Perception of host nation/city as being unsafe (crime rates, media, etc.)
  • Higher risk of extreme weather or natural disaster
  • Insufficient travel insurance coverage
  • Limited modes of transportation and overall infrastructure
  • Food poisoning, disease, water contamination
  • Severe injury to participant while abroad
  • Inappropriate behavior during the activity
  • Participant offends local resident(s)
  • Transport of equipment

In a recent webinar I co-hosted with Dina Bell-Laroche on this very topic, sport organizations shared some of their international travel risks which included struggles with border crossing, loss or damage to specialized sporting equipment, language issues and a lack of localized medical care. Another organization, who requires the use of dependable high frequency radios at their international championship and training events, shared their challenges in either travelling across borders with radios that they trusted or in procuring reliable technology on site in other nations. What we know is that, in sport, just about anything can happen and it can happen anywhere. We have learned that travel related risks can be numerous, wide-ranging, and difficult to predict. We also know that these risks can vary considerably based on the sport, the purpose of travel, the location, available resources, and the size or composition of the travelling team.

When it comes to travel, we are naturally predisposed to consider risks and prepare for them. We pack clothing for various types of weather. We print out extra copies of our travel documents. We share our travel plans and international contact information with our peers. For a team, this level of preparation is elevated further. What we have noticed when auditing sport organization’s current practices, is that most don’t use a risk assessment framework to ensure that the standard of care provided is consistent, comprehensive, measured, and well-documented. This is where the principles of risk management come in to play.

At the Sport Law & Strategy Group, we believe there is a better way to manage travel risks. The basic steps include:

  1. Establishing a travel risk assessment procedure to identify and assess risks. The procedure should include several phases of risk assessment both in the initial lead-up to and in the weeks before the trip.
  2. For each travel risk, assign a risk-rating score based on the probability of the risk occurring on the trip and the consequence or impact to the organization if it should come to pass. This helps to you to assess and prioritize the risks.
  3. Identify risk treatment strategies (retain, reduce, transfer, avoid) that can help you reduce the likelihood or minimize the negative impact. In addition, these measures can also help you maximize success by identifying possible solutions and alternatives.
  4. Travel related action steps such as ‘proceed’, ‘use discretion’, and ‘do not travel’ are applied to the risks based on the risk scores and treatment strategies.
  5. A travel risk registry is used to capture the risks along with the assessment and treatment measures for them. The registry also includes who, is responsible for what, by when, and how – a great way to identify who is responsible for the various areas.
  6. There is a coordinated communication plan of related travel risks, transparency in expectations and responsibilities, spokespeople are identified and understand their role and key messages, and the organization takes the necessary steps to educate or train its team members on how to deal with various travel risks.

Aside from travel insurance, the most common method of international travel risk mitigation by Canadian sport organizations is the travel policy, which outlines their commitments, risk management procedures, and the responsibilities of team members. The policy is usually accompanied by a travel consent form and disclaimer which includes key participant contact information, key trip and details, a description of the associated risks, a release of liability on the part of the organization and its stakeholders and a disclaimer for personal injury, damage, expenses, loss of income and suffering. In the case of youth, additional acknowledgements by the legal parent/guardian are required and any adults who are responsible for the supervision of children and youth (coaches, chaperones, assigned adult) are also clearly identified.

Other best practices include referencing Government of Canada travel advisories, site visits, host group consultations, communications with the localized Canadian embassy/consulate, and on-site emergency response planning. We further encourage our clients to identify risks that are specific to the travel destination such as cultural sensitivities and laws related to drug use, dress, LGBTQ+, crime rates, environmental conditions, political climate and health related risks. They can also source additional service providers such as hired drivers, security and translators to mitigate the risks incurred on site.

More of our friends in sport are reaching out to us in advance of their travels, often to pre-arrange support from a legal professional and a communications specialist in the event of a crisis occurring while on the trip. This is smart business practice and is just one more step that team organizers can take to prepare for emergencies abroad.

In our recent webinar, we asked participants how effectively their organizations prepare for travel risks. 83% of respondents felt that they were somewhat effective and 17% indicated that they were not effective at all (0% indicated they were really effective). At the conclusion of the webinar, we further polled participants to indicate their confidence in applying the travel risk management principles shared. 67% of participants felt really confident and motivated to apply them while 33% were somewhat confident and unsure of next steps (0% indicated they were not confident). The poll results highlighted the need and willingness for sport organizations to improve their team travel preparedness and increased confidence in implementing a risk management approach.

If you have not yet applied the principles of risk management to your team travels, we encourage you to do so. There are various risk resources and blogs available through the Sport Law & Strategy Group as well as through our partners at the Canadian Centre for Ethics In Sport. If you need assistance in applying these principles and/or building your travel risk toolkit, we are here to help.

Jason Robinson (jer@sportlaw.ca - @sportarchitect)
Dina Bell-Laroche (dbl@sportlaw.ca - @dblaroche26)

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