Sport England was wrong to refuse to recognise bridge as a sport because it did not involve “physical activity”, the High Court has heard.
The English Bridge Union (EBU), which was founded in 1936 and has 55,000 members, has brought a challenge against the lawfulness of the adoption of the policy by the funding body which is accountable to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
The EBU’s headquarters is based in Aylesbury, on Broadfields, where it has a permanent professional staff which administers the business of the game for the 39 constituent county associations.
Sport England’s approach meant that darts, model aircraft flying, ballooning, angling, billiards and snooker were recognised as sports but the card game was not - even though, as with other sports, it was based on rules, fairness and competition, said Richard Clayton QC.
At the start of a two-day hearing in London, he told Mr Justice Dove that the card game had health benefits for the mind and was one of a smaller number of sports available to older people, to whom it brought a sense of inclusion and community which many would not otherwise have.
The EBU claims that the ordinary and natural meaning of “sport” in the 1996 Royal Charter which established Sport England was sufficiently broad so as to not necessarily require physical activity.
It says that lack of recognition impacts upon EBU’s ability to take part in European and international competitions and a change in policy would lead to investment in projects to teach the game to people of all ages and improve facilities.
Sport England, whose stance is supported by the Department, says that the claim that it had misconstrued the terms of the Royal Charter and the Physical Training and Recreation Act 1937 was not sustainable.
Arguing that the case should be dismissed, Kate Gallafent QC said: “The EBU is effectively asking the court to change the well-settled policy of government that the funding of sport through the sports councils should be limited to sports involving physical activity.
“However, the issue for the court on this application is not whether the game of bridge has any benefits for health or otherwise, or whether a different government might take a different view as to whether it should be funded through the sports councils, but whether Sport England - and the other sports councils - erred in law by the adoption of the recognition policy in October 2010.”
Ben Jaffey for the Department said it was common ground that bridge was a game of the mind, but the EBU contended that a “sport” ought to include “mind sports” which - like physical sports - should be recognised by the sports councils.
Sport England was an expert body specialising in physical sports and had no particular expertise in mind games. It adopted a policy as to which “sports” it would recognise so as to focus its effort and resources.
“There is nothing objectionable about bridge, chess or similar mind games. But the sports councils are entitled to separate mind games from physical activities when deciding who to recognise.
“If and to the extent that Her Majesty’s Government wishes to provide support to bridge, it will do so.
“But the route to achieving that result is by applying for funding under an appropriate category, not a claim for judicial review seeking to alter the long-standing basis on which the sports councils operate, and affecting the basis on which they are funded.”
Mr Jaffey said that bridge might be a valuable and worthwhile pursuit, requiring mental agility and analysis, but it was not recognised as a sport - a position which had been repeatedly considered by successive governments with no change in the law.
Instead, Parliament had granted significant fiscal benefits to bridge clubs and similar pastimes.
The Judicial Review is being heard today (Wednesday) and started yesterday at the High Court although it is not expected that a ruling will be made immediately.
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