Card games as sports- a bridge too far?

Rebecca Johnson discusses the doping scandal that has rocked bridge, and debates its labelling as a sport.

Rebecca Johnson
18th March 2019
Image- Pixabay

Earlier this month saw yet another doping scandal hit this world of sport. Except this doping scandal is slightly different, as it has rocked the world of bridge. What is bridge? I hear you ask. Bridge is a card game, consisting of four players in two partnerships. In its simplest form, bridge is about dealing cards and bidding for plays.

Geir Helgemo was handed a one year ban by the World Bridge Federation (WBF) after testing positive for two banned substances: clomifene and synthetic testosterone. All his titles and points from 2018 have been stripped from him as a result. However, this episode raises two important questions; firstly, how would doping realistically affect one’s performance in bridge and secondly, should bridge actually be considered seriously as a sport?

Considering bridge is ultimately a brain game, how would these substances affect performance? The substances that Helgemo tested positive for affect performance physically, not mentally. In fact the Monaco Bridge Federation told BBC Sport that that anti-doping regulations should not be applied to “the brain sport of mind games”.

However, the WBF is recognised by the International Olympic Committee and has to abide by the World Anti-Doping Agency rules. So if these drugs affect physical performance but not mental performance, then surely bridge shouldn’t be recognised as a sport? In 2017 Sport England refused to recognise this and the English Bridge Union took legal action against them. The case then got taken to the European Court of Justice who ruled that bridge shouldn’t be considered as a sport. Sport England state that a sport is defined as involving “physical activity” and bridge didn’t fall under this bracket.

Should bridge really be considered a sport? Personally I think not, I agree with Sport England’s definition of a sport, that it should include “physical activity”. However, it is unfortunate that a talented player like Helgemo has been penalised, when these substances won’t realistically make a difference to his overall performance.

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