“We are sick of being told that what we do is less important because we don’t sweat enough.”
— Ian Payn, vice chairman
English Bridge Union
“The sport councils are entitled to separate mind games from physical activities.”
— Ben Jaffey, Department for
Culture, Media and Sport
Curling has always been my favorite Olympic sport. It’s fun to watch, the competitors have been known to wear outfits that would give John Daly’s golf pants a run for their money and, even at my age, it looks like a sport that I could participate in. (I couldn’t, of course — Olympic curlers are highly skilled athletes — but it looks like I could.) Badminton and table tennis are summer Olympic sports and previous demonstration sports have included ballooning, bowling, tug of war and something called ‘Korfball.’
Now, in the United Kingdom, an organization has filed a legal action proving that anything can be the subject of a lawsuit. The English Department for Culture, Media and Sport has classified model airplane flying, darts, ballooning, fishing and billiards as “sports,” but refuses to grant that same recognition to the game of bridge, citing the fact that it does not involve “physical activity.” Suspecting that victory was just not in the cards, the English Bridge Union has filed suit.
Perhaps the Bridge Union has simply been dealt a bad hand, but their suit is actually quite substantial. Being designated as a sport by the DCMS would make the Bridge Union eligible for public grants and tax exemptions that could assist in funding tournaments for its more than 300,000 members. The organization could also be eligible for refunds on back taxes that could total hundreds of thousands of British pounds.
Looking to shuffle things up, the Bridge Union filed suit back in February asking the court to force the DCMS to actually come up with a definition for what qualifies as a “sport” in the U.K. — something it had not previously done. Not to be deterred, the attorney for the DCMS told the court at an earlier hearing that bridge would never be a sport because “the starting point of the definition of sport is physical activity.” She compared playing bridge to sitting at home alone and reading a book.
The judge was not impressed and told her that she had “failed to land the Ace of Trumps.” The judge noted that bridge has been designated by the Olympic movement as a “mind sport” and allowed the case to move forward with further hearings. And now bridge isn’t alone — the English Chess Federation has dealt itself in and joined the lawsuit, too.
Bridge is no laughing matter. A recent Wall Street Journal article about the lawsuit noted that in 1929 Myrtle Adkins Bennett of Kansas City, Missouri, shot her husband twice in the back, killing him, after they argued about losing a game of bridge to their neighbors. Myrtle Adkins was charged with murder and a sensational trial took place in Kansas City.
During the trial, defense attorneys acted out the murder scene and claimed both self defense and temporary insanity. Testimony was presented that Mr. Adkins had hit his wife before the shooting and that he had beaten her before. The jury deliberated for nearly a full day before finally acquitting Mrs. Adkins of the bridge murder. She lived out her life in New York and Miami before dying at the age of 96.
There’s little doubt then that bridge is serious business to those who play it. Whether it qualifies as a sport — at least in England — is now in the hands of one of Her Majesty’s Courts.
David Hejmanowski is judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Common Pleas Court. He plays a mean game of pinochle, but has never been known to play bridge.