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Bridge players lose High Court bid for sport recognition

Published 15/10/2015

A High Court judge has been asked to decide whether the card game bridge is a sport
A High Court judge has been asked to decide whether the card game bridge is a sport
A High Court judge has been asked to decide whether the card game bridge is a sport
A High Court judge has been asked to decide whether the card game bridge is a sport
A High Court judge has been asked to decide whether the card game bridge is a sport

Bridge players who wanted the card game defined as a sport have lost a High Court fight.

Sport England refuses to recognise bridge as a sport because it does not involve ''physical activity''.

English Bridge Union officials mounted a challenge b ut a judge ruled against them today after a hearing in London.

Mr Justice Dove began a written ruling on the case with the words: "Bridge is a card game..."

And the judge said he had not been asked to answer the "broad, somewhat philosophical question" as to whether or not bridge "is a sport".

He said the issue was whether Sport England officials had "erred in law" when refusing to classify bridge as a sport.

Sport England had adopted a policy containing a definition of sport which was derived from the European Sports Charter and included the words "physical activity", said Mr Justice Dove.

He concluded that the move was in line with legalisation - and dismissed the English Bridge Union's bid for a "judicial review".

The English Bridge Union said it was considering an appeal.

"We are very disappointed and feel that we put forward a strong case," said lawyer Alex Peebles, who works for law firm Irwin Mitchell, which represented the English Bridge Union.

"We are currently reviewing our potential options for a possible appeal."

The English Bridge Union said sporting recognition stymied potential funding opportunities a nd lawyers representing union officials argued that Sport England - a funding body accountable to ministers - had made legal errors when reaching its conclusion.

They said the phrase "physical training and recreation" contained in legislation - 1937 Physical Training and Recreation Act - had been "misconstrued".

Mr Justice Dove thought otherwise.

The judge said there was a "compelling case" that the phrase "physical training and recreation" should be interpreted as "meaning physical training and physical recreation".

He said that "construction" was supported by a 1937 Memorandum which identified the Government's aim as "promoting physical fitness" and embracing "the whole field of physical culture".

He added: "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."

He said some international organisations had recognised bridge as a sport, b ut he said it was "difficult to identify" anything which might justify giving a different meaning to "physical training and recreation" than the meaning intended in 1937.

"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," said the judge.

"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."

He went on: "There is therefore no warrant in this case to reinterpret this phrase as a result of the passage of time: inclusion of activities promoting mental activity and agility would in my view undoubtedly require amendment of the legislation."

Phil Smith, Sport England's director of sport, said: "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 many people enjoy playing bridge, but that's not going to play a part in the fight against inactivity.

"We take our role in recognising activities as sports very seriously because it means that organisations offering that activity can apply for National Lottery funding, as well as benefit from certain tax reliefs.

"We welcome the High Court's ruling today which confirms that we have acted correctly by adopting a definition of sport that requires physical activity."

Ian Payn, v ice-chairman of the English Bridge Union, added: " The English Bridge Union challenged Sport England's decision to refuse to recognise us as a sport.

"We argued that they had acted unlawfully in adopting a policy defining sport so that 'physical activity' is necessary to be recognised as a sport, with the result that model aircraft flying or darts are recognized as sports, but bridge is not.

"This very old fashioned definition of sport means that Sport England is unlikely ever to recognise bridge as a sport.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Justice Dove has found for Sport England.

"His decision affects participants in many sports other than bridge.

"We are very disappointed."

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