Last year we brought you the shocking news that, according to HM Revenue & Customs, bridge was a game not a sport, meaning that the English Bridge Union was unable to reclaim the (not insignificant) VAT on competition entry fees.
But, at the risk of mixing up our gaming metaphors, the High Court may have just dealt the English Bridge Union a “Get Out of Jail Free” card by granting permission for a full judicial review of its status.
What is a sport?
According to the barrister representing Sport England in the High Court, a sport is an “activity aimed at improving physical fitness and well-being, forming social relations and gaining results in competition”. Whilst most would agree that bridge ticks off these last two requirements, can it really be said to improve “physical fitness”?
Well, the judge in this case thought it could: physical fitness requires physical activity and, if the brain is a muscle, then he believed it is certainly well-exercised during the cut and thrust of a few vigorous hands of contract bridge (he did also reveal that he enjoyed a few hands himself on social occasions).
In a comment that will have the UK’s National Rifle Association up in arms, the judge said “You are doing more physical activity playing bridge, with all that dealing and playing, than in rifle shooting”.
What are the benefits of being a sport?
Classification as a sport would not only resolve the VAT point referred to above but would also pave the way for bridge (and other “games”) to qualify for government and lottery funding from entities such as Sport England. It would also enable UK bridge players to enter certain international competitions from which they are currently excluded due to rules which require official domestic recognition.
What about chess? Monopoly? Scrabble??
The judge in the case also suggested that other “mind games”, such as chess, might want to consider their status. No doubt representative bodies for Monopoly, Scrabble, Cluedo and Trivial Pursuits (to name just a few) will be analysing the finer detail of the decision and relishing the prospect of their members being classified as elite sportsmen and women.
However, Sport England has indicated it will not take the decision lying down, stating provocatively that bridge is no more a sporting activity than “sitting at home, reading a book” (another activity which can require the exercise of considerable brain power).
An Olympic sport?
Although it was not included in the schedule of events for London 2012, bridge was recognised as a sport by the International Olympic Committee over 15 years ago. So far as we are aware, there are no plans for it to feature in Rio next year but, if the outcome of the judicial review is positive and you start practising your dealing and bidding now, could you be amongst the athletes at Tokyo in 2020? Time to get measured for that Team GB tracksuit…