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Bridge is a sport. What else? by José Damiani

Page 6... 'In light of recent developments, the President Emeritus of the WBF and the EBL José Damiani has sent us the following communiqué relating to marketing and discipline.'

"I believe that, after what has happened recently, it is my duty to explain what is behind the policy I first promoted about 30 years ago and which was accepted by all my predecessors and successors.

Duplicate Bridge is a game of skill, organized and played throughout the world in clubs, National Federations, Zonal leagues and the World Bridge Federation which is naturally responsible for the Laws.

This is one of the main reasons why it is considered as a sport despite the dispute about different definitions of sport where in some countries it is considered that a sport must be a physical activity.

The large majority of international bodies to which bridge belongs, the International Olympic Committee, SportAccord, ARISF, IMSA, the Federation Internationale du Sport Universitaire (FISU) sports are divided into various categories :Physical Sports,Mind Sports,Motor Sports,Coordination Sports,Equestrian Sports.

Some are Olympic disciplines, others not but they all organise competitions which exclude luck, are subject to clear rules (the first bridge code was published in 1871) are universal, promote health (we are proud to help to fight any kind of dementia) and offer security - we can be proud also of our motto Bridge for Peace.

I sincerely trust that everybody is happy to see Bridge comprising all values of sport: fair play, discipline, ethics, application, performance. So believe me we are not pursuing Olympic grandeur, we are just positioning Bridge in such a way that we can help its promotion and development for the benefit of the players and NBOs.

Duplicate bridge is unquestionably a sport. What else? There is no alternative view surely. Even though some may criticise, no one has offered any other marketing concept. Using this “branding” is the only way to introduce Bridge into schools successfully, as fortunately they have been able to do in some countries.

We have made great efforts to achieve acceptance and recognition as a sport, as well as being an excellent tool for teaching not only Bridge itself but all the aspects of sport that are learned along the way – not just mathematics and analysis, but social interaction, discipline, ethics and sportsmanship.For many NBOs this is the only way for them to get some financial support and recognition, to say nothing of the possibility of obtaining corporate sponsorship as we did with Epson, Générali, NEC, Louis Vuitton and others, allowing substantial prizes to be awarded.

It is the only way to bring in young players – I remind you that in Beijing 2008, 110 youth teams, about 1000 players from 74 different countries were invited to play in the World Mind Sports Games all their full expenses paid, travel and full board.

It is the only way to get the world wide publicity (look at Salt Lake City...)

Of course, it is also true that being a sport we have to accept some constraints. But so what ?

WADA! I am personally happy that we should join the fight against doping and the damage caused especially to the youth. “Our regulations provide for anti-doping tests to be held at the major WBF championships, but only for players from the Open, Women’s, junior and Girls series”.

Court of Arbitration of Sports : CAS ! Ah here we are. What a confused situation has arisen, emphasized by the first CAS award ever made for bridge.

I believe that nobody disputes the disciplinary organization of our sport, because in any case we have to respect the main judicial principles whereby the NBO is in charge of dealing with the violation of ethics inside its own territory and then of informing the other NBOs of any sentence which must be extended everywhere. This principle of reciprocity applies also with the zonal organisations and the WBF and vice versa. And naturally it is mandatory to allow for the possibility of an appeal. We did not foresee any difficulty with CAS as we were confident that the arbitrators would recognize the specificity of bridge which requires technical knowledge and judgment. Their resulting ruling does not, however, mean we may be in a weaker position than previously.

I personally dealt with many cases, and had to manage the bans of more than twenty pairs during my long career and did so whatever nationality was involved and however difficult the decision but to the best of my knowledge and belief, shared most of my life in bridge with good, honest people.I am strongly of the opinion that we should be as severe as possible, especially with collusion cheating, stripping the titles, medals and masterpoints, and banning these players for life.

Nevertheless I still see many people taking a different stance, even seeing some sponsors or teammates playing again with convicted players which is against what I, and I am sure my colleagues, have tried to achieve.

I strongly believe that the players are the first ones to know what is happening at the table and should be the first to report any issues. That’s the reason why I built the Player’s High Level Commission (HLPC) to take care of the interest of the players themselves and to examine and evaluate cheating cases or probable cases. We have a dedicated hot line, and two representatives of this commission, one woman and one man, sitting as members of the WBF Executive Council with full voting rights.

I do not believe that CAS or, indeed, any National Court can prevent the Credentials Committee of any National, Zonal or World Federation the right to refuse to invite players to their Championships should they consider them undesirable for whatever reason. I know that this may be considered draconian, but as long as it is used with caution and with safeguards in place, then in my opinion it is necessary to have such sanctions available in Bridge as it is the only way to eliminate for sure some players who appears to be addicted to cheating.

And yes we have to use it carefully, but without weakness and where necessary providing education and advice to the adjudicators. (Incidentally I am sure you will have noted that 15 athletes “released” by CAS, have not been invited by the IOC to participate in the last Winter Olympics).

I am sorry for the length of this, but not for my views ! I am quite sure we must and can punish criminals effectively and still claim Bridge is a sport! What else?"

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