Bridge is not a sport, judge rules

The English Bridge Union (EBU) has failed in a legal challenge to have the card game recognised as a sport.

A judge at the High Court in London ruled that the decision by English Sports Council - a non-departmental public body which provides government and lottery funding for sport in the community - to adopt a definition of sport which requires an “element of physical activity” was “legally correct”.

Mr Justice Dove explained that the question which arose in the case was “not the broad, somewhat philosophical, question as to whether or not bridge is a sport”, but “whether or not the defendant lawfully adopted a definition of sport which effectively excludes mind sports”.

The claimant, the national governing body for bridge in England, argued that the defendant “erred in law” in adopting a policy containing a definition of sport derived from the European Sports Charter, the result of which was that the defendant would be unlikely to recognise bridge as a sport, which would have have entitled the EBU to receive more funding from the Government and National Lottery.

It was submitted that the defendant’s adoption of the European Sports Charter definition was based on a “legal misdirection” as to the proper effect of the 1996 Royal Charter under which the body was established and section 3 of the Physical Training and Recreation Act 1937.

It was contended that the defendant, now known as Sport England, had misconstrued the Royal Charter in adopting a definition that incorporated the requirement of physical activity for a sport to be recognised.

The EBU argued that bridge was a “mind sport” and that the the word “sport” should not be confined to activities which comprise a physical component.

Indeed, the International Olympic Committee and other international organisations recognised bridge as a sport.

It was also submitted that the defendant had misconstrued the phrase “physical training and recreation”, which appears in s3 of the 1937 Act, by seeking to construe the phrase as matters stood in 1937.

The claimant contended that approaching the construction of that phrase in 2015 required a “different interpretation” of the statutory language because “time has moved on”.

It was argued that a “modern interpretation” of the word “recreation” would include bridge as it would not require the inclusion of an element of physical activity as part and parcel of qualification for inclusion within funding provided under s3 of the 1937 Act.

However, the judge was “unpersuaded” that there was any error on behalf of the defendant in the way in which they interpreted the legislation and dismissed the application for judicial review.

In a written judgment, Mr Justice Dove said: “I am equally unpersuaded by the suggestion that ‘physical training and recreation’ is a phrase whose general understanding has moved on or which exists within a factual or social context where its meaning may have developed and changed since the 1937 Act was enacted.

“The importance of supporting physical training and physical recreation remains a significant element of public policy, and the desirability of the specific promotion of physical activities remains as relevant today as it was at the time the 1937 Act was passed. That is not to say that there may not be good reason for public policy to promote mental activity and agility, but in the light of the originally intended meaning of the phrase remaining both relevant and appropriate there is no warrant for the phrase to be reinterpreted to include activities not involving a physical element.

“In this connection the decision of the defendant to adopt the European Sport Charter definition of sport which requires an element of physical activity was entirely consistent with the proper understanding of their Royal Charter. Thus, whilst the word ‘sport’ may have other definitions in other contexts, the correct interpretation of the operative phrase in the 1996 Royal Charter incorporates in this instance an essential element of physical activity.”

He added: “The centrality of the correct interpretation of the 1937 Act and also the 1996 Royal Charter also disposes, in my view, of the arguments raised by the claimant in relation to why other activities such as darts or model aircraft flying have been recognised. Whatever the rights or wrongs of those decisions, they cannot impinge upon the correct determination in law of the meaning of the 1937 Act and the Royal Charter.

“Similarly the fact that other international organisations, applying their own distinctive approaches and definitions, have recognised bridge as a sport, has a very limited relevance in determining the legal questions which arise in this case and does nothing to deter me from the conclusion that the defendant’s approach to the 1937 Act and the Royal Charter was legally correct.”

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