The players laid out their best hands, but in the end there was only one winner.
Bridge is not a sport eligible for lottery funding, the high court has ruled, after players of the card game lost a legal challenge to have it designated a “mind sport”.
The English Bridge Union (EBU) was attempting to overturn a decision by Sport England that bridge’s lack of physical activity meant it was not a sport, leaving it ineligible for funding from the body.
But Mr Justice Dove ruled that Sport England, whose lawyers had described bridge in court as no more a sport than “sitting at home, reading a book”, had been acting within the law. The judge said he had not been asked to answer the “broad, somewhat philosophical question” as to whether the activity was in fact a sport.
The EBU had argued in court that the tactical, taxing card game brought clear benefits for the mind, particularly for older people, and pointed out that it is recognised as a sport by the International Olympic Committee and several European countries.
Peter Stockdale, communications officer for the EBU, said it was “obviously disappointed” at the judgment. Bridge, he said, had “many of the attributions of playing sport … You are exercising yourself very intensely, albeit mentally”.
The case had not been brought primarily because of access to lottery funding, he said, although that would have been a “nice by-product” of a court victory, allowing the 630 affiliated clubs across England to apply for money to upgrade facilities.
Rather, he said: “It is primarily about recognition. There are a number of opportunities and organisations that are only available to you if you are a sport.”
The decision meant that schools would not be able to offer bridge as a sporting option, he said, while the English university bridge champions were currently unable to compete at the European championships, because they did not have official sporting status.
The 2011 Charities Act had adopted a definition of sport as “activities which promote health involving physical or mental health or exertion”, he said, which specifically included “mind sports”.
Both bridge and chess applied for inclusion in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, but failed to make the final shortlist.
The EBU has 55,000 affiliated members, though Stockdale said it estimated that more than 300,000 played the card game across the country.
Alex Peebles, a lawyer for the firm Irwin Mitchell, which represented the EBU, said it was considering its next play. “We are very disappointed and feel that we put forward a strong case. We are currently reviewing our potential options for a possible appeal.”
Phil Smith, the director of sport for Sport England, welcomed the ruling, saying: “Sport England’s job is to help the nation to be more physically active, a role given to us by our Royal Charter. “We recognise that may people enjoy playing bridge, but that’s not going to play a part in the fight against inactivity.”
This article was written by Esther Addley, for theguardian.com on Thursday 15th October 2015 12.08 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010