Bridge: Trying for the Olympics (Again)

Bridge: Trying for the Olympics (Again)

By Alex J. Coyne © 2020 Great Bridge Links

“E-sports are growing fast, and there is an alliance developing between the E-Sports Federations and International Sport Federations. This business arrangement may develop, depending on their need for each another.”

– Al Levy via E-Mail

The debate on whether or not the game of bridge can be considered a sport is firing up once again, and the discussion might be burning hotter than the Olympic torch itself as opposing sides come forth with what they think the game should be.

A recent article by the BBC points to the fact that a handful of sports (including bridge, chess and tug of war) are applying for the ability to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

(“Olympic Games: Bridge, chess & tug of war apply” | BBC)

Other sports include American football, sumo wrestling, wushu and wakeboarding. In fact, there are 26 sports applying for potential competition in total.

Bridge: Not a Sport, But a Mind Sport Instead

It’s happened before: The High Court of Justice (UK) considered the merits of bridge as an official sport in 2015, and ended up deciding that it doesn’t fit the bill.

(“Is Bridge a Sport? The High Court Will Decide” | The NY Times)

It might be because bridge is considered a sport, but not the same kind of sport as the ones that involve running, jumping or kicking.

Instead, bridge is a mind sport – and officially considered as such by the International Mind Sports Association (IMSA). GO and Chess are also members of the same together with a handful of other sports centered more around the participation of the mind than the physical involvement of the body.

Bridge was a ‘sport’ at the 2018 Asian Games and its oldest competitor, Kong Te Yang (85) hopes people will open their minds to a game that tests strength of mind, rather than body.

Bridge enjoys a global playing base and infrastructure comparable to any traditional sport, Peter Stockdale, Communications Manager of the English Bridge Union told the Olympic Channel.

Can the courts decide?

In October 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled that bridge couldn’t be considered a sport, even when played competitively, because it lacks a “significant physical element.”

The decision was a result of a tax dispute brought forward by the English Bridge Union. In the United Kingdom, sporting events are generally exempt from paying value added tax, or VAT, which covers goods and services. If an activity is shown to promote mental and physical well-being, it can qualify for the exemption. The bridge union brought the legal action forward after Britain’s tax authority denied its request for exemption. This was disappointing as a positive ruling could have reduced entry fees. Read full article in the Washington Post here.

Other European countries – Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France and the Netherlands – do recognise bridge as a sport.

We spoke to Al Levy from the World Bridge Federation about his thoughts. Here’s what he had to say.

Interviewing Al Levy About Olympics, E-Sports and Bridge

“Floorball and many other newer sports are drawing interest.” says Levy, who recently saw an exhibition match of Teqball at a SportAccord meeting.

According to Google, Teqball is a football-based sport that resembles table tennis, though gets played on a curved table. Levy describes it as something that looks like two-person soccer on a ping-pong table.

If you’ve never seen it, watching a YouTube video about it might be best.

“Bridge and Chess, having been recognized as a sport by the IOC and many national Olympic Committees (but not in the US), should ‘push’ for a place in the summer Olympics.” says Levy. “The IOC is receptive to their application even though they will not be awarded a place in the foreseeable future.”

“It was nice to see a bridge event at the 2018 Asian Games.” says Levy. “If nothing else all of this is good publicity.”  See article on IMSA World here.

He knows of one proposal where bridge was considered as a sport for university interscholastic competitions in the state of Texas.

“It was not accepted,” says Levy, believing that a financial decision was likely at the heart of the eventual decision. “Sports is big money at universities, and bridge won’t get them any richer.”

There’s still a trump suit at the end of the tunnel. Levy calls it an interesting development that might help bridge if a connection between the two can be forged.

“E-sports are growing fast, and there is an alliance developing between the E-Sports Federations and International Sport Federations. This business arrangement may develop, depending on their need for each another.”

“Bridge might fit in there somehow,” says Al optimistically, while admitting that money talks – and that it will have to be in the cards first.

We might see bridge emerge as a strong competitor in the world of e-sports alongside games like DOTA before we see it as part of the Olympics.