It is evident, in North America at least, that bridge is dying. It seems to be holding its own in other places such as Europe, and gaining popularity in China and Australia; in South America, Africa and the near East it has always been moribund at best. The ageing bridge-playing population is most frequently given as the reason for the decline, although there are plenty of other good reasons as well, cost being a major one.
How is this situation being addressed? Aside from a few countries with active bridge administrations which get young people involved, it isn’t. We still have many good young players at the top, but there needs to be a larger base of young people playing the game if it is to survive.
How should the situation be addressed? In our view, the single biggest, and mostsignificant, step we could take would be to get bridge taught in schools. This should be the primary goal of every NBO. It is already taking place in China (24 million players) and Indonesia (30,000 juniors) in earnest, but only occasionally in Europe and North America. One of the reasons seems to be that bridge is still thought of as a gambling game rather than a mind sport. The University of North Carolina recently de-certified the campus bridge club on the grounds that it was a game of chance. To its credit, UNC reversed this stance and reinstated the club when presented with compelling evidence to prove otherwise.
Although the WBF has been criticised for its slavish adherence to ‘Olympism’, there can really be no doubt that this is the way forward. The IOC has deemed bridge a sport and many NBOs have been recognised by their National Olympic Committees. The first step to getting bridge in the schools, either as a curriculum subject or as a ‘club’ activity, is to have NOC approval. Every NBO should make this a priority if it has not already been accomplished. Once accomplished, the NBO should have a (full-time?) person charged with the mission to get bridge into the schools. Armed with NOC accreditation and the evidence that bridge improves minds, the sales pitch should be easier than it is currently. For the countries that have not already achieved NOC accreditation, the IOC and the WBF should be engaged to help attain it.
Every sport that appears in the Olympics gains enormously in exposure and popularity, and consequently, government funding. The mind sports will be no different. There has been great progress in Asia already, bridge having been admitted to the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia. For whatever reason, Asian governments and organisations seem to be more amenable to the mind sports than others are.
NBOs should also look to the exemplars of youth bridge, China, Indonesia and Poland, for ideas. Their experience will provide invaluable assistance in how to proceed.