Think ahead: take out sports injury cover

It's easy to get caught up in the fun of the game. But an accident on the field could cost you dearly at work. Chiara Cavaglieri and Julian Knight report

After today's London Marathon, thousands of runners will be cherishing memories and nursing sore limbs.

But if you fancy getting involved in next year's spectacular, or indeed any sport, there is one thing you may want to think about: what happens if you sustain a serious injury while training or on the big day itself? It has been estimated, for instance, that a third of those hoping to run the marathon pull out beforehand due to injury; some are relatively minor, but others will be serious enough to require a long work lay-off resulting in financial hardship.

One option for any keen sportsperson concerned about the costs associated with injury is to take out specialist sports insurance.

"It's so easy to get caught up in the fun of taking part, but so many of us don't think about the implications of an accident," says Sarah Potter, from Helpucover. "We take so much for granted, particularly our health."

Several providers offer this kind of protection, and the good news for is that many of these policies are relatively cheap. At Helpucover, for example, premiums are fixed at £6.95 per month for bronze cover, £11.95 for silver and £14.95 for gold – the higher the premium, the larger the potential payout. But what should consumers expect from these policies and is this type of cover really worthwhile?

The first and most obvious step is to check that your preferred sport is included. Helpucover provides insurance for the top three sports for injuries; running, rugby and football, but won't cover "extreme sports" such as bungee jumping and also excludes less obvious sports such as skiing, mountaineering and ice skating.

For more adventurous sports enthusiasts, Sports Cover Direct provides cover for activities based on four classifications, depending on risk. So aerobics is classified in group one, football in group two, rugby in group three and parachuting in group four. The riskier the group type, the higher the premiums, but your occupation can also affect premiums. As an example, silver cover for an office-based job (Class A) costs £54.80 for group one sports, but £89.40 for group four sports. The same cover for drivers and heavy manual work (Class D) costs £78.50 and £148 respectively.

The pay-out levels will also vary depending on both the premium level chosen and the type of injury sustained. At Helpucover, the most comprehensive policy includes up to £10,000 a year for dental treatment, a cash lump sum of up to £2,000 for a broken bone and 75 per cent of physiotherapy costs, up to a maximum of £1,000 per year. It also provides a cash benefit of up to £25 a night for a maximum of 10 consecutive nights per claim or 21 nights per year.

"It looks like a good product and comprehensive enough to cover the main sports injuries," says Emma Walker, the head of protection at Moneysupermarket. However, she adds that private medical insurance (PMI) may be more appropriate for some people.

"If you are an avid sports person, it's worth considering. But if you're also thinking about insuring your general health, PMI may prove better value for money," adds Ms Walker.

As ever, reading the terms and conditions carefully will pay dividends. First, these policies are for amateurs only so you won't be eligible for cover if you receive any income from that sport. You will typically be excluded if you are over 60 years of age; and, if you have a pre-existing condition which will make any consequent injury more severe, check to see if this will affect potential pay-outs.

It's also crucial to find out exactly what is and is not covered. For example, there may be stipulations regarding income replacement. Gold cover from Sports Cover Direct pays out £250 per week, but at no more than 75 per cent of your normal income. This is payable for a maximum of 26 weeks but excludes the first 14 days of being out of work.

Helpucover also has time constraints on making a claim and will not provide cover for any injury diagnosed more than seven days after the event. You will also be expected to take some precautions yourself such as wearing mouth guards and not playing sport when "unfit" to do so.

The Rugby fanatic: 'After my accident, it turned out useful'

Chris Vargyas, 28, a mechanical engineer from Northampton, is a self-confessed fitness fanatic. In 2006, shortly after forking out hundreds of pounds in dentist's bills following a rugby accident, Chris decided to take steps to protect his wallet from any other potentially costly accidents.

He took out a sports injury policy with Cardif Pinnacle (provider of Helpucover insurance) and currently pays £14.95 a month, but says the premium is well worth the peace of mind. So far, he's claimed on the policy on two occasions, both times after injuries picked up through playing rugby.

"I play pretty much every week throughout the rugby season and train at least twice a week. After my dental accident, and having the injury history that I do, it's turned out to be very useful," says Chris.

He received a cash lump sum for both claims – his first was £1,040 for a broken arm which rendered him unable to work for four weeks, while his second was for £1,000 for a torn shoulder ligament.

The cash payments topped up his company sick pay and covered the cost of travelling to and from the hospital, which he says would otherwise have been a real stretch.

"I would definitely recommend taking out some form of sports injury cover. It allows me to continue participating in a sport I enjoy without having to worry about the consequence of an injury that could impact other areas of my life," he says.