Is Bridge a sport?

By Prof  Dr Ian Blackshaw

Is the card game of Bridge a sport?

Not according to Sport England, whose decision is being challenged by the English Bridge Union (EBU) in the English High Court in a process known as ‘Judicial Review’.

The Court will not decide whether Bridge is or is not a sport, but only whether the decision by Sport England was lawful, by adopting a policy of excluding activities that are not ‘physical’.

But, what is a sport?

According to the UK Charities Act, 2011, sport includes activities “which promote health involving physical or mental skill or exertion.” This definition would seem to favour the EBU. Also, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) considers that Bridge should be classified as a ‘Mind Sport’ but is not currently included in the ‘Olympic Programme’. In fact, the organisers of the 2020 Summer Games to be held in Tokyo have invited Bridge and also Chess to apply for inclusion in these Games. A decision on Bridge and on Chess is due next year.

On the other hand, sport is defined by the Council of Europe as an “activity aimed at improving physical fitness and well-being, forming social relations and gaining results in competition.”

At stake in this contest are grants from Sport England and also from the National Lottery, which includes sport amongst its “good causes”.

Thus, Sport England has argued that Bridge is no more of a sporting activity than sitting at home reading a book! The purpose of Sport England being to get the Nation fitter by promoting and improving physical health and using “its precious funding” for these purposes only!

However, supporters of Bridge claim that players have to be physically fit, as they can often be playing in competitions up to nine hours a day.

The EBU is also challenging a decision of the UK Tax Authority (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) that Bridge is not a sport and is not, therefore, exempt form VAT on contest money!

Incidentally an early version of the game of Bridge played in England dates from the 16th Century, so, if it is a sport, it is certainly not new one.

The outcome of these legal challenges is awaited with wider general interest. For, who knows, but perhaps, one day, if Bridge is reclassified as a sport, other so-called ‘Mind Games/Sports’, such as Scrabble, may also be eligible for inclusion in the Olympic Games!

Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw is an International Sports Lawyer, Academic and Author and may be contacted by e-mail at ‘ian.blackshaw@orange.fr’