England, 27 Apr 2015
Bridge being recognised as a sport is on the cards By John Bingham, Social Affairs Editor
Judge deals bridge players winning hand in first stage of battle for sporting recognition because brain is a ‘muscle’.
They might not always look like elite athletes, but a High Court judge has ruled that players of bridge, chess and other “mind” games could be ranked alongside sportsmen of the highest order.
Mr Justice Mostyn ruled that a claim for bridge to be recognised as a sport is at least arguable because the brain is a “muscle”.
In some cases games requiring intense mental activity could even involve more physical strain than pursuits such as shooting which are recognised as sports, he added.
The judge’s comments came as he gave the English Bridge Union (EBU) the go-ahead to bring a legal challenge against rules excluding it from official recognition as a sport and signalled that chess might also wish to be considered.
It raises the prospect that enthusiasts for Scrabble, Monopoly and other board games might also request recognition as sportsmen.
The ruling allows the EBU to seek judicial review of the decision by Sport England, the body which handles government and Lottery funding for sport initiatives, to exclude bridge from its official definition as a sport.
But Sport England signalled that it will fight the case, insisting that bridge is no more a sporting activity than “sitting at home, reading a book”.
The EBU argues that it is being unfairly excluded from special VAT exemptions for sporting competitions, worth about £100,000 a year in total to event organisers.
The exclusion also has a knock-on practical impact on the game in England, excluding British players from some international competitions because of rules requiring official domestic recognition.
Ian Payn, vice chairman of the Union, said recognising bridge as a “mind sport” would also be a powerful boost to children and young people who are not good at traditional physical pursuits.
The judge, who admitted enjoying a hand of bridge himself on social occasions, said: “To gain permission to seek judicial review you must have a realistic and not fanciful chance of success.
“I cannot see how this case is not arguable.”
He also remarked that the World Chess Federation, FIDE, should also be informed of his decision – as they “may want to get in on it”.
Richard Clayton QC, representing the Union, told the court that a handful of other EU countries, including the Netherlands, Ireland and Poland, already recognise bridge as a sport and that the International Olympic Committee recognised bridge and chess as sports in 1999, although they are not currently part of the Olympic Games programme.
Kate Gallofent QC, for Sport England, said: “The starting point of the definition of sport is physical activity, bridge cannot ever satisfy this definition.”
The judge replied: “If the brain is a muscle, it does – you are doing more physical activity playing bridge, with all that dealing and playing, than in rifle shooting.”
Phil Ehr, chief executive of the English Chess Federation, which is affiliated to FIDE, said the group would consider becoming involved in the Judicial Review.
“Success in chess tournaments requires exertion, physical stamina, mental focus, control and cunning,” he said.
“This is true for chess players at any age.
“Although we respect the decades-old legislation designed to prepare the British public for the rigours of World War II, it’s time that Parliament recognised the contribution of chess in wartime Bletchley Park and the relevance of chess skills in facing 21st century challenges.”
Mr Payn said: “It is not right for mind sports like bridge to be ghettoised in a sense.
“When you are younger it is important for you to feel that what you are doing is important and not just shoved in a back room, the benefits of this could affect a remarkably large percentage of the population.”