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Is the WBF Sexist?

Women's and Open Events

Bridge is somewhat unique as a competition in that it offers women ample opportunities to match wits with men on equal terms. In tournament bridge women have a choice to compete in events with gender restrictions (i.e., women’s events and mixed events) or in open events. If we not only aspire to be just as good as men, but also want to prove it, we need to compete with men in the same events. Otherwise nobody will believe we can play on an equal level with men, and the chances to improve are just so much better when playing against stronger opposition. Lately, I have seen more and more women take the plunge into the cold water of open events. I hope this trend continues.

All sports have some kind of a ranking system. In bridge most use some version of masterpoints. Most would agree this may not be the best system to reflect a player's abilities. However, that is the kind of system the World Bridge Federation (WBF) uses to rank players participating in international competition. The WBF also awards placing points for high finishes in the most prestigious competitions. Reading through their masterpoint plan, it occurred to me that the WBF seems to have found it difficult to institute a system that complies with bridge's special competition structure.

Leaving senior and junior events aside for the purpose of this discussion, there are basically three event categories in bridge: open, women and mixed. But there are only two ranking categories:open and women's. The open ranking is considered more prestigious than the women's ranking and, this is important, is used for seeding purposes in tournaments around the world, notably the Vanderbilt and the Spingold in the US. A woman participating in a women's event earns masterpoints and placing points towards her women's ranking. A woman participating in an open event earns masterpoints and placing points towards her open ranking. So far, so good. But what about mixed events, where each partnership must consist of a man and a woman?

Different Awards for the Same Achievement

A man participating in a mixed event earns masterpoints and placing points towards his open ranking. A woman, however, earns masterpoints and placing points towards her women's ranking. Different awards for the same achievement! A man can become an Open World Grand Master by winning a mixed world championship. A woman cannot; she can become a Women World Grand Master. A woman with the exact same open and mixed achievements as a man has fewer Spingold and Vanderbilt seeding points. It seems to me that both men and women should be entitled to the same award for the same achievement. To me, not granting the same award constitutes clear discrimination. The obvious solution of course would be a separate mixed ranking. It is understandable if a woman prefers to boost her women's ranking with her mixed successes instead of her open ranking. If the WBF does not want to institute a separate mixed ranking, why not give every woman a choice whether she wants her mixed successes to count towards her open or her women's ranking? Is a woman's contribution in mixed events worth less than a man’s?

On November 25th last year I sent a letter to the WBF Masterpoint Committee explaining my viewpoints and asking them to change the existing regulations to reflect equal awards for equal achievements. I did not receive a response. On April 11th this year I wrote to just the President of the WBF, who is the Chairman of the Masterpoint Committee, politely inquiring whether I could hope to receive any response to my request. This time I received a relatively prompt reply saying that the matter would be considered at the WBF Management Committee meeting during the European Championships in June in Budapest. I was not given any news regarding my request after the Championships. On July 12th I once again contacted the chairman of the Masterpoint Committee politely inquiring whether any conclusions regarding the masterpoints issue had been reached at the Management Committee meeting. I did not receive any response. However, in the meantime I have learned unofficially that the WBF does not intend to make any changes.

The Larger Problem

Individual players are not members of the WBF nor of the EBL (European Bridge League), only the respective NBOs (National Bridge Organizations) are members. As such only NBOs can file official requests with both the WBF and the EBL, individual players cannot. Even though several players over the years in both formal and informal ways tried to alert our organizations to the existence of cheating in tournament bridge and begged them to take measures against it, nothing effective happened. Only Boye Brogeland’s untraditional approach of taking the discussion public eventually shook up the authorities and at least some of them finally realized that something had to happen. But is that the way it is supposed to be? I feel very strongly that our organizations have to stop hiding behind legislation and give us players a voice they are willing to hear. After all it is the players who populate their tournaments and who pay the entry fees and the membership fees. I feel we deserve a better safeguarding of our interests and I feel we deserve equality.

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