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Definition of sport a bridge too far for the High Court

A favourable decision would have entitled the sport to more government funding

15 October 2015

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The English Bridge Union (EBU) has failed in its attempt to have the card game recognised as a sport following a decision by the High Court.

A favourable decision would have entitled the EBU to receive more funding from the government and National Lottery while potentially opening up new opportunities for further development of the game.

Mr Justice Dove said: '"Sport and physical recreation" connotes and requires an essential element of physical activity in accordance with the 1996 Royal Charter', under which Sport England was created.

He added: 'In this connection, the decision of the defendant to adopt the European Sport Charter definition of sport which requires an element of physical activity was entirely consistent with the proper understanding of their Royal Charter.'

The crux of the case centred on whether or not Sport England had erred in law in adopting a policy containing a definition of sport derived from the European Sports Charter, which incorporates physical activity within the definition.

For the uninitiated, bridge is played by four players in two partnerships. It uses a standard 52-card deck and involves betting on the number of tricks each side will win.

The EBU argued that 'mind sports' should be recognised as a sport within the definition because of the health benefits for the mind.

The definition deployed in the defendant's policy and which is derived from the European Sports Charter Article 2(1) provides as follows:

'"Sport" means all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels.'

The decision will impact other 'mind sports' such as chess, which would have been hoping for a positive outcome.

Writing in sister publication Private Client Adviser earlier this year, Darren Hooker and Richard Jones said the case highlighted the 'peculiar position' that sporting organisations can find themselves in.

'They can be regarded as a sport by the Charity Commission and therefore eligible to be registered as a charity, yet not regarded as a sport in the eyes of Sport England and unable to apply for its funding. Conversely, a sports club may be recognised by Sport England but not be eligible to register with the Charity Commission as a charity,' said the Stone King duo.

'This inconsistency of approach is not helpful, but is unfortunately something which sporting organisations should be aware of. Clubs cannot assume that they can enjoy the perks and benefits available from both Sport England funding and registered charity status.'

Matthew Rogers is an editorial assistant at Solicitors Journal @sportslawmatt

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