Planners at the All England Club are believed to have paid around $2.4 million each year to protect the Grand Slam from the financial risks of a pandemic, sparked by the threat posed to major sporting events by the SARS outbreak that was eventually contained in July 2003.
Organizers expect to lose more than $300 million in revenue after calling off this year’s tournament last week, meaning the decision to invest in a disaster policy has provided a welcome relief for one of the flagship events on the British sporting calendar.
Although Wimbledon bosses have not confirmed the measure, a spokesperson for the championships told Action Network that the club had taken out “optimum insurance coverage.”
Golf tournament The Open, which was due to take place in Kent in July before its cancelation was announced on Monday, is also thought to have paid for a pandemic policy.
Speaking to the US outlet, lawyer Jonathan Pray said both tournaments were likely to have created specific contractual clauses that would cover coronavirus, rather than signing up to standard cancelation conditions.
“What many people don’t know is that business interruption insurance is actually tied to property insurance,” explained Pray.
“So if there’s no tangible loss of property or damage, you aren’t collecting.”
“Force majeure” – the insurance clause covering unforeseeable circumstances such as a pandemic – has been enacted by competitions including football’s Jupiler Pro League.
Belgium’s highest level of football was able to use the arrangement to end its season without incurring vast financial losses relating to its broadcasting deals, but it is unclear whether major leagues around the world have similar existing clauses.
“Force majeure clauses are heavily negotiated because there is obviously a big risk if something happens,” Pray pointed out.
“I would also say that it wasn’t automatic to suggest putting pandemic in a contract – it’s not like fire, floods, hurricanes and snowstorms.”
Wimbledon chief executive Richard Lewis, who admitted he had known that this year’s June tournament was hanging in the balance in February, said the insurance would help to protect “a large extent” of the championships’ funds.
“We’re fortunate to have the insurance and it helps, but it doesn’t solve all the problems,” he added. “The details and the figure probably won’t be known for months.”
Wimbledon has turned its attention to providing healthcare support, facilities and the distribution of food supplies since announcing its abandonment for the first time since World War Two.
Lewis has predicted that professional tennis could grind to a halt until 2021, although the US Open is still scheduled to take place in September, ending a week before the surprise new start date announced by the French Open.
Patrick Mouratoglou, the coach of seven-time Wimbledon winner Serena Williams, has warned that players outside the top 100 are likely to suffer during the suspension of the game, calling their treatment “revolting”.
“Unlike basketball or football players, tennis players aren’t covered by fixed annual salaries,” he said, writing to the governing bodies on Twitter.
“They’re independent contractors. They’re paying for their travels. They’re paying fixed salaries to their coaching staff while their own salaries depend on the number of matches they win.
“We can’t leave lower-ranked players behind anymore. This isn’t right. Tennis needs change. Let’s use this free time to start a discussion.”