New hand required: Bridge players trumped by judge

Members of Leeds Bridge Club playing at Moor Allerton Sports & Social Centre,on Thursday as the English Bridge Union lose its High Court fight against Sport England's ruling the bridge is a sport. Picture Tony Johnson
Members of Leeds Bridge Club playing at Moor Allerton Sports & Social Centre,on Thursday as the English Bridge Union lose its High Court fight against Sport England's ruling the bridge is a sport. Picture Tony Johnson
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BRIDGE players are gearing up for another fight after losing a High Court bid to be recognised as a sport.

The English Bridge Union (EBU) had sought to overturn Sport England’s refusal to recognise the card game as a sport because it does not involve “physical activity”. But it suffered yet another blow when Mr Justice Dove, sitting at London’s High Court, today ruled in the funding body’s favour.

Ron Millett, who is a director of English Bridge Union playing at Leeds Bridge Club, said it was "only a matter of time" before bridge would be recognised as a sport. Picture Tony Johnson

Ron Millett, who is a director of English Bridge Union playing at Leeds Bridge Club, said it was "only a matter of time" before bridge would be recognised as a sport. Picture Tony Johnson

The hearing was not to answer the “broad, somewhat philosophical question” as to whether or not bridge “is a sport”, the judge said, but rather whether Sport England officials had “erred in law” when refusing to classify bridge as a sport.

Sport England had adopted a policy containing a definition of sport which was derived from the European Sports Charter and included the words “physical activity”, said Mr Justice Dove.

He concluded that the move was in line with legislation - and dismissed the English Bridge Union’s bid for a “judicial review”.

The EBU - which has come under criticism that the bid was about money, rather than the honour of bridge as a sport - said it was now considering an appeal.

Nick Woolven gives lessons to intermediate members of Leeds Bridge Club. Picture Tony Johnson

Nick Woolven gives lessons to intermediate members of Leeds Bridge Club. Picture Tony Johnson

Speaking after the hearing, vice-chairman Ian Payn said the definition of sport was “very old fashioned” and that Mr Justice Dove’s decision affected “many sports other than bridge”.

He added: “We argued that they had acted unlawfully in adopting a policy defining sport so that ‘physical activity’ is necessary to be recognised as a sport, with the result that model aircraft flying or darts are recognised as sports, but bridge is not.”

Sport England’s director of sport, Phil Smith, said its role was “to help the nation to be more physically active.”

“We recognise that many people enjoy playing bridge, but that’s not going to play a part in the fight against inactivity,” he said.

“We take our role in recognising activities as sports very seriously because it means that organisations offering that activity can apply for National Lottery funding, as well as benefit from certain tax reliefs.”

Lawyer David Golten, who is head of commercial litigation at Wedlake Bell, said the claim was “about money”.

He added: “This claim was never about whether bridge is a sport, which it obviously isn’t. The claim was all about money and whether Sport England’s decision not to classify bridge as a sport, and thereby to deprive bridge from funding, was properly reached.

“The judge has found that it was. The reason the bridge players brought the claim was not because they seriously believe it is a sport; it is because if they had been successful then the game would have received significant additional funding through the lottery and government grants.”

But Ron Millett, a director of the English Bridge Union and a member of the 350-strong Leeds Bridge Club, said that taking the case to court was never about funding - but about ensuring Bridge got the recognition it deserved. He branded the ruling was “ridiculous”.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “Because of the rules and regulations which govern bridge you could walk into a club anywhere in the world and play a game - whether it be for fun, or fierce international competition.

“It was quite clear who had the better arguments, and that was us. Archery and shooting are Olympic sports but you could hardly argue that they are vigorous physical activities.

“Sport England may have been concerned that we were just after money, but we have resources, we simply want to be recognised internationally.”

Mr Millett said it was “only a matter of time” before Sport England would be forced to recognise bridge.

He added: “100 years ago, sport meant running on a track, jumper over a bar or throwing a shot put. The meaning has expanded to include so much more.

“There’s more to sport than sweat.”

Olympic dreams

IT is thought 300,000 people in England play bridge on a regular basis - 55,000 of whom are members of the English Bridge Union.

Bridge is a recognised sport in many European countries, including Poland, Netherlands, France and Belgium.

It is currently in the running to be included in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, with the final decision to be made next year.

Sport England’s ruling meant that darts, model aircraft flying, ballooning, angling, billiards and snooker were recognised as sports but bridge was not - even though it is based on rules, fairness and competition, the English Bridge Union argued.