Bridging the sports gap not yet on the cards

Ireland’s bridge chief has backed UK efforts to have the popular card game acknowledged as a sport. But he isn’t counting on trick-making replacing goalscoring on sports pages any time soon.

Sport England has consistently refused to recognise bridge as a sport, preventing it becoming eligible for funding and lottery grants. But a British high court ruling this week granted a full judicial review of Sport England’s decision. “There is nothing in the Sport England charter that limits sports to physical activities, and the health benefit of playing bridge is well documented,” argued Richard Clayton QC, representing the English Bridge Union.

Kate Gallofent QC, for Sport England, countered by stating there is an “absolutely clear bright line” between mind sports such as bridge and chess and conventional sports. Using snooker as an example, Gallofent made the distinction that “no-one else can take your shot”, whereas in bridge “somebody else could step up and play my cards for me.”

Paul Porteous, general secretary of the Contract Bridge Association of Ireland, contends that bridge deserves to be regarded as a sport.

“From the point of view of its contribution to the social fabric of the nation, I think it does more than some physically-orientated sports.

“There is no delineation in bridge between fit and unfit, young and old. You can have a 16-year-old sitting playing beside an 80-year-old. In that respect, it does a huge amount in terms of creating respect.” When the Irish Sports Council was set up, Irish bridge did submit an application for recognition, but Porteous admitted they are still waiting. “It looks like we’ll have to paddle our own canoe,” he said.

There are 520 registered Irish contract bridge clubs, with 34,000 members. Ireland fields a bridge team at the Mind Sports Olympics, held every four years. The 2016 event will take place in Rio. Recognition as a sport isn’t a pressing battle to be won here, accepts Porteous since organisations such as Contract Bridge Association are already tax-exempt here. In the UK, the need to charge VAT is a strong motivator in the English Bridge Union pursuing this case.

Weighing up the case, Mr Justice Mostyn accepted there were “a number of strong indicators that an essential ingredient of sport, even if it is not competitive, has to embrace physical activity”. But he also suggested the IOC’s recognition of bridge and chess as mind sports was “very significant”.

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