International Bridge Press AssociationIBPA September Editorial

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the editor do not necessarily. There is growing frustration among top bridge players about the inability of bridge administrators to curb, let alone eliminate, cheating. There are at least five big problems, apart from the cheating itself:

(i.) The ostrich-like stance on cheating taken by most bridge organizations.

(ii.) The lack of standard and effective protocols both to reveal and to punish

(iii.) The absence of bridge expertise among the administrators charged with handling accusations of cheating.

(iv.) The lack of communication and cooperation among the various organizations such as the WBF, the EBL, the ACBL and other regional and national bodies.

(v.) The possibility of legal action brought against bridge organizations by accused

Similar frustration was evident in various sports played under the Olympic banner (swimming, athletics, cycling, speed skating, weight lifting, etc.) before the IOC finally recognized the problem and created WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency). WADA tests athletes for proscribed and restricted substances in and out of competition and employs a team of expert doctors, chemists and technicians to analyse urine and blood samples for those substances. It is not necessary to catch an athlete actually injecting himself or herself – all that is required is to establish elevated levels of a prohibited, regulated or restricted substance to lead to suspension and/or expulsion.

In bridge, cheating is our ‘dope’. The top players have strong feelings about various pairs who they ‘know’ have crossed the line into collusion. They know this because of the continued bridge actions of the suspect pairs in many situations in the bidding and in defence. The first step, as always, is to recognize that there is a problem, something that the top players realize but that is not universally accepted among bridge administrators. Administrators need to listen to and heed the top players to.

The second step is to take action. Starting with problem (ii.), one solution would be for the WBF (with assistance from regional and national bodies) to create a forum of elite international players (let’s call it WACA, the World Anti-Cheating Agency, or maybe something more politically apt such as WBCC, the World Bridge Compliance Commission). This would solve problem (ii.). Solving problem (iii.) would require this agency to be composed of universally-respected, very-experienced, expert players whose ethics and reputations are above reproach. No politicians, no administrators, no lesser-than-elite players, except perhaps in a liaison or recording function. It might be a good idea to have a lawyer and a Tournament Director who are bridge experts in the agency as well. The agency would analyse the evidence of the deals and decide if there are unacceptable levels of ‘testosterone’ present. Administrators, by and large, are not equipped to make those judgements, just as non-MDs/PhDs are not qualified to analyze blood and urine for chemical and biological substance abuse. The players hearing a specific case would not be direct competitors of the accused party – the agency would need to be large enough to accommodate cases in all competitive bridge groups: Open, Women’s, Seniors and Juniors.

Currently, the feeling among administrators seems to be that they must catch a suspect pair actually signalling (‘injecting themselves’) to suspend or expel them. As is the case with WADA, that should not be necessary in bridge – the evidence is there for expert players to see; what is needed is a mechanism for taking action based on the results of our ‘testing’. The standard of proof needs to be high – we can allow no innocent parties to be convicted. There must thus also be a mechanism for accused parties to present their case.

The next step, solving problem (iv.), would be to make WACA’s decisions binding on the WBF and all regional and national bodies. There would need to be, if not agreement on sanctions, procedures in place to ensure compliance with the sanctions and proper communication among all bridge organizations.

Finally, problem (v.), organizing bodies need to ensure that steps are taken to protect WACA, the WBF and regional and national bodies from lawsuits brought by the convicted parties (especially worrisome in North America). In professional team sports, some leagues have a Collective Bargaining Agreement which defines what the players’ rights and responsibilities are and which delineates the steps administrators need to take to sanction a player for, among other things, drug use or criminal activity. Yet other sports require players to sign a waiver stating that they will follow prescribed procedures, behave in a certain way and agree to abide by the decisions of a body such as WACA. Lacking anything resembling a CBA, the latter schema would be more appropriate for bridge. Note that the WBF and some NCBOs already require players to sign a “Competitor’s Agreement” before being allowed to participate. It would be a simple matter to include a clause to the effect that the player agrees to abide by all decisions of WACA and abandon the right to legal action as a result of WACA’s decisions. In addition, the WBF already has a Credentials Committee to approve players for play in their Championships.

This approach is not without difficulties: some of those that spring immediately to mind:

1. WACA would need to have a filter process so that only serious, well-documented cases are heard and the agency is not overwhelmed.

2. Innocent pairs need to be protected against rumour-mongers and false accusations.

3. Responsibilities (for example, the questions of who brings the case and who assembles the documentation) need to be clearly defined.

4. A determination of who bears the cost of investigation, judicial review and the legal consequences needs to be made.

5. The issue of signing a waiver of the right to bring legal action needs to be examined to determine whether it is actually legally binding in various jurisdictions. (Is it a legal contract? Is it merely coercion by a monopoly?)

These are not insurmountable problems, but they do need to be considered before implementing this, or any other, plan. It is clear that a different approach to the eradication of cheating is needed. Following the example set by the IOC, especially since we hope eventually to join the Olympics, would be a good solution. Playing bridge is a privilege, not a right, and we need to reserve (and preserve) that privilege for those who follow the rules.

This editorial was prompted in part by accusations directed against Israeli players Lotan Fisher and Ron Schwartz.