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Russian sports insurance in the spotlight

Insurance for sportsmen and women has recently become a hot topic in Russia, following a number of high profile incidents. RT caught up with one of the country’s top sports lawyers, to see if changes are being made on the issue.

Irina Skvortsova's life was turned upside down on November 8, 2009. She suffered horrific injuries through no fault of her own as her bobsled collided with another sled, due to the mistake of an official.

At one point she feared she might lose her leg, but her physical injuries were not the only battle she had to overcome.

“There have been problems with insuring our sportsmen and women. For instance, the insurance policy could cost just a few rubles. If we look at the case of Irina Skvorstova, she was insured under a tourist policy, which would only pay out a few thousand euros in case of injury. After just a few days of treatment her insurance funds had already dried up,” explains Sergey Alekseev, top Russian sports lawyer.

Irina's eventual bill ran into hundreds of thousands of euros. However, there was a happy ending as a media campaign brought her plight to the nation, and her medical costs were eventually paid.

Skvortsova's case also had a positive effect for the future of Russian sportsmen who are seriously injured. In January this year, Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko announced in a meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, that all athletes traveling abroad will now be insured for 300,000 euros.

This maybe all well and good for top sportsmen, but one of Russia's top sports lawyers says children are being put off going into sport.

“Kids are afraid of ending up in the same situation as Irina Skvortova, and are therefore being put off going into sports. Skvortsova was helped by the amount of media coverage and she raised the money she needed. However, serious injuries happen regularly but no one knows about them and there is no system in place to help them,” says Alekseev.

One of the most dangerous sports is gymnastics, due to the stress that is puts on one's body and the dangers of landing. Russia's brightest star, Aliya Mustafina, could have had her fledgling career ended just a couple of months ago, when she suffered cruciate knee ligament damage. She is well on her way to recovery.

However, China's Sang Lan was not so lucky. She broke her neck in 1998, while competing at the Goodwill Games. The incident left her in a wheel chair, and she is now filing a $1.8 billion lawsuit against the likes of Ted Turner, who founded the Games, to the likes of AOL Time Warner, who owned the Games, after the Chinese Olympic committee failed to help her out.

“Our top athletes are struggling to win the gold medal, a great number of athletes, just because we don't have a good insurance system, are having difficulties to find a job and to make a living – let alone those who have injuries,” says Sang Lan.

Russia is slowly trying to make sure that the situation that affected Irina Skvortsova will never crop up again. Sergey Alekseev has called for free medical care for life for all athletes, while steps are also being made to help sportsmen develop a career, once they retire. There is still plenty that needs to be done, but at least it seems the Russians are finally moving in the right direction.