Sport Events & Risk Management – More Than Just a Broken Arm

Published October 28, 2015

Hosting a successful sport event involves many factors, some of which involve taking risks or exposing your organization to potential risks. Minimizing risk during the hosting of your events helps to avoid possible injuries, legal consequences, and a negative participant experience. As events are public channels that reflect your organization’s image, brand and reputation, ensuring that they meet legal standards and public expectations is a critical indicator of your organization’s leadership and effectiveness.

Event risk management is a comprehensive audit of your event policies, procedures, and practices that focuses beyond safety issues. Obviously, the safety of everyone associated with your event is tantamount to a successful event, but event risk management is so much more than a twisted ankle or a broken arm. A sound risk management plan for sporting events looks at all factors that influence your ability to achieve desired outcomes. It is a series of formal commitments by an organization to implement, monitor, and evaluate risk treatment strategies. Risks requiring treatment can include poor communication, conflicts of interest, improper resource allocation, limited finances, and other influencers that can lead to loss of revenues, sponsorship, staff, intellectual property, and reputation.

Furthermore, risk management is most effective when it is aligned with your corporate values, as highlighted by Dina Bell-Laroche who writes, “it requires a commitment by leaders to actively find ways to monitor and measure their organization’s performance not only against objectives but also against their core values. When values are made explicit, sport organizations and their leaders can build the kind of environment where the promise of an optimal sport experience for all participants is more fully realized.” [1]

So event risk management is much more than just securing a tent to account for windy conditions or coordinating a medical response team. It recognizes your desired outcomes, which can include participant safety as well as financial goals, attendance, positive athlete experience, brand recognition, partnerships, team building, and event legacies. It then identifies the risks that affect those outcomes and analyzes those risks. Lastly it outlines measures to treat those risks in a manner that is consistent with your corporate values.

Risk Management Audit – Recent Success

We recently completed an event risk management audit for a large Canadian outdoor retail business. Though not their real name, I’ll refer to them as Action Sports X (ASX). ASX engaged the Sport Law & Strategy Group to conduct a third party assessment of its risk management policies with respect to its public athletic events, its nationwide staff training excursions, and its internal staff functions conducted at the ASX Head Office.

The common link between all three programs mentioned above was the element of physical activity, the inherent risks associated with those activities, and the desire to ensure ASX’s existing risk management measures delivered a standard of care that exceeded current industry standards. Our goal was not only to meet this objective, but to also deliver a comprehensive risk management framework that helped ASX further achieve its desired program objectives, congruent with its corporate values. This was a very exciting challenge, because with ASX we were adding the element of a highly retail and brand oriented business into the fold.

For each of the three programs we sought to identify the risks, assess the risks, and develop treatments for those risks. We learned that each of the three programs being assessed were different in their own way and provided unique challenges to ASX. The athletic events were publicly consumed activities that were geared towards participants of all skill levels and include activities such as open-road cycling or multi-distance running races. For the staff training excursions, there was an emphasis on qualified and professional instruction, with the goal of developing experiential and product knowledge for the staff. This could include excursions that take place in more difficult climates or terrain, such as rock climbing, wilderness hiking or sea kayaking. As for ASX’s internal head office activities, challenges included the establishment of boundaries associated with physical fitness and social functions in the building, to protect the staff as well as be compliant with workplace safety standards. For each program, providing a high standard of care varied depending on the type of activity, the resources available, and existing industry practices.

What we learned through this project is that each program required its own specific tools for success and that the framework we developed for ASX’s risk assessment could be applied to all programs. In some instances we established program specific tools, like risk registries to capture both common risks and sport inherent risks within each program. In other instances we developed tools to provide a comprehensive approach for all three programs. One primary comprehensive tool created was an Activity Risk Management Policy. This Policy would be a publicly shared document that communicated the importance and value of effective risk management to ASX. It outlined the purpose of the policy, the scope and authority that applied to it, and the procedures for addressing risk.

The project was not only successful in identifying existing industry standards and further mitigating the potential for negligence for ASX activities, but it also revealed risks within the procedures and corporate culture of ASX that could impact its activities. The end result was a series of new tools, revised documents and recommendations that could be used by Action Sports X to host outcome focused and risk aware events.

Consider an Event Risk Management Audit

If you host an event series or high level championship programs, consider engaging the Sport Law & Strategy Group to conduct a specialized risk management audit of your events. Much like we did for Action Sports X, we can provide you with a map and a compass for an effective risk management program. This will elevate your standard of care and help you better achieve your desired objectives.

If you would like to learn more about this topic, I am hosting an upcoming webinar, “Risk Management Auditing for Sport Events” on Wednesday, November 25, at 12pm EST. Join me on November 25! You can register for the webinar on our Webinar Series page.

In addition, we offer risk management workshops for sport organizations at all levels that can be tailored to your needs. If you want to learn more about these workshops, please contact Jason at


[1] Values-in-Action: Igniting passion and purpose in sport organizations by Bell-Laroche, D. (2013)


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