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Dear Mr Harris, General Counsel, WBF

From a Lawyer to a Lawyer

 

Even before your statement of 9 October was published, I felt this BB was tainted; now, only more so.

As I think I’ve said before, I only learnt of this site after opening The Times one morning to read about allegations of cheating on the front page. I never got any further in the paper that day, or the days following, so engaging this site is. (I probably even missed Andrew Robson’s columns.)

 

The whole current tournament has been an absolute joy (even if a huge distraction from work) to watch, and thanks go to the VuGraph operators, the LiveBridge site that provided video, the commentators & the whole of BBO, and of course the players for providing such engaging bridge to kibitz. But alas, the WBF cannot be included in that list.

(As a personal kitibizer, I really enjoyed the final day of the semis, watching the England team recover and lead with what the commentators described as two final, boring part-score boards, no swings expected, but it was painful to see that recovery lost on the last board (I had no idea about David Gold’s concerns at that time, but it wouldn’t have varied from the pleasure of kibitzing).)

 

None of that has taken away the shadow that was cast over the whole tournament, and that has to my mind at least only been darkened by this recent statement from the WBF General Counsel.

 

I cannot for a moment see why individual players are not entitled to hold an opinion, and comments on this site have shown that many (among the professionals, those that will have played at the table with those that now facing allegations) have held opinions for some time. That is entirely their right. And just as they have had the right to hold those views for as long as they have, and sometimes expressed their views among their peers, they have an equal right to share their views among a wider circle of peers – those viewing these boards.

 

I do however find it shocking, saddening, and definitely most unprofessional for not only a lowly official of the WBF to make a spontaneous comment off-the-cuff, but that the General Counsel in a prepared statement, has said that “those responsible for doing so may find themselves subject to investigation”. Unless this relates directly to the possibility of cheating by the allegers (which would be entirely reasonable if there are any grounds to hold a suspicion (I personally think not, as most have only one shared interest, but would not wish to prejudge the knowledge or information that Mr David R Harris [counsel for the WBF] has)), this is an absolutely scandalous comment to make. Is the WBF implying that players can discuss suspicions within a very small circle of peers, but if they take it wider, via the mediums we have available these days to share thoughts more broadly without firm evidence, that the professionals that discuss such opinions could themselves be subject to investigation for any wider allegation? That is unacceptable, and entirely unprofessional, Mr Harris!

 

Mr Harris is a lawyer. So am I. As such, I know that any suspicion of inappropriate behaviour can only ever be tested in front of a body assigned to determine such matters: a court/tribunal/panel, whatever it might be. But always only such an authority can determine whether the allegations are be established.

 

The test, at least in my line of work (employment/labour work) is "on balance of probability"; this is a standard test, in the UK at least, for civil matters; in criminal matters, the test is "beyond reasonable doubt". But that test (whatever threshold it needs to meet) can never be brought before a Judge unless there is first an allegation, and the judge is never responsible for that decision - that an allegation may exist.

Ergo, say a police officer (or even a Sheriff) suspects someone of some wrong-doing: the suspected party may be arrested & charged, the evidence is presented to a prosecuting party, and a decision made on whether to proceed to prosecution. Decisions will be made by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in Englanfhad, and I believe the county or state Attorney in the US, with similar arrangements elsewhere in the world.

(In my line of work, an employee would complain that one of my employer clients acted against the law, and being a civil case, brings the case to a court (a tribunal is the legal term) to address the allegations, but the principal follows across any form of enforcing the law – a party that feels another has acted contrary to legal obligations can ask a court to decide the matter.)

 

The activities of those that have supported the recent allegations are no more than anyone would have a right to do in most civil societies: to raise an allegation against someone, and present evidence to substantiate their allegation. It is then for the prosecuting body (the WBF perhaps, if these allegations were to taint the sport that it is ultimately responsible to uphold) to decide whether to present that case to a decision-making body, a panel, a court, or whatever it might be.

 

As I will have no responsibility to determine these allegations, I can form an opinion. And despite not having looked at the evidence in the detail that others clearly have, I do form an opinion, and this is that on balance of probability the allegations are proven in the cases openly discussed on these forums… the final decisions will rest with others though.

 

To describe these players of the sport we love who are making allegations – whether they’re professionals at the top of the sport, club players with no strong allegiance to anything more than the etiquette of bridge that was drummed into them in their first ever bridge lesson (before they even struggled with holding 13 cards), or others interested in the integrity of this sport – as possessing a “lynch mob mentality” I find absolutely disgusting Mr Harris. How dare you cast such aspersions against those interested amateur & professional players in this sport that also happen to be familiar with & willing to assist with considering these allegations – something your employer doesn’t appear interested to do.

 

May I remind you Mr David R Harris that as a lawyer, an allegation needs to be made before it can be determined (by an independent party) whether this justifies further action. I am not subscribed to any bridge federation at the moment, and only play casually, typically on BBO. But even on BBO, where there is an easy opportunity to cheat with a regular partner, there can be no more unpleasant thought than to breach the most basic principles of this sport. For anyone to imply (within a small circle, or a wider circle that Bridge Winners reaches out to) that a partnership has cheated is a serious and ghastly allegation. But the suspicions that these allegations are based on, I have absolutely no doubt (actually well beyond the criminal test of beyond reasonable doubt) are well founded.

 

Mr David R Harris, you closed with:

The WBF will continue in its efforts and honour its obligations to act in a responsible manner as an International Sport Federation. The concept of Integrity in Sport includes fair play and the elimination of cheating but not to the exclusion of proper processes and people’s basic rights…. The WBF will not tolerate cheating, neither will it stand by and watch kangaroo courts claim some legitimacy when they have none.

 

May I respectfully suggest that the WBF’s first duty is to the participants of this sport, before even the ISF. And remind you too that in most parts of the world, an allegation of a wrong-doing is in the public domain, with evidence normally presented in a public court which has to pass both the tests of doing the right thing, but also seen to be doing the right thing.

 

But for the integrity of some teams (and I cast no aspersions against Poland for continuing in the tournament – these are still only allegations, allegations that some authority (perhaps the WBF?) might care to investigate), this Bermuda Bowl could have been the most horrible to kibitz ever. They have been tainted by the shadow of allegations of cheating, but for me at least, they have been tainted a lot more, not only by the lack of transparent action by the WBF, but a lot more so by your prepared statement. My personal kangaroo court judgment is that you have acted with impeccably poor standards, particularly when you spout about others lacking legitimacy or integrity when the WBF, by way of your statement, clearly has none.

 

 

 

Karl Limpert

 

EDITS: To respect the comment below, Mr Harris has hopefully been identified as David R Harris, General Counsel WBF - not to be confused with any other Mr Harris 

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