Bridge: The Charity Commission vs Sky Sports viewers!

Will the recent bridge debate affect legislation made in 2011?

Posted by Graeme Hughes

Graeme Hughes is a solicitor in the Charities and Social Enterprise Department at Brabners LLP.

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Last night (on one of the rare occasions that I was able to exercise control over the TV remote) whilst flicking through the sports channels, I came across a poll being run by Sky Sports on whether or not the card game Bridge should be classified as a sport.

The poll had been prompted by a High Court decision to grant the English Bridge Union permission for a full judicial review of its status following Sport England refusal to recognise thecredentials of Bridge as a sport.The English Bridge Union sought recognition form Sport England in order to qualify for lottery funding but Sport England stated that Bridge is no more a sporting activity than “sitting at home, reading a book”.

The result of the Sky Sports poll (which asked “Is Bridge a sport?”) was that 74% of its viewers did not consider Bridge to be a sport.

I suspect however that many voters were unaware of the Charity Commission’s decision to register the Hitchin Bridge Club as a charity in 2011 in which the Commission took the view that the game of Bridge falls within the definition of “sport” contained in the Charities Act 2011.

The Hitchin Bridge Club applied for registration with the Charity Commission in part on the basis that it was established for the charitable purpose of the advancement of amateur sport (the advancement of amateur sport is listed as a description of a charitable purpose in section 3((1)(g) of the 2011 Act).

Section 3(2)(d) of the 2011 Act defines “sport” as meaning “sports or games which promote health by involving physical or mental skill or exertion”.

In reaching its decision to register the Hitchin Bridge Club, the Commission confirmed that it was satisfied that Bridge was a game that involved mental skill or exertion. The Commission was presented with evidence of the health benefits of playing Bridge – the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is reduced by up to 75% by regularly playing Bridge – and also accepted that Bridge involves a high level of mental skill – a point emphasised by the fact that Bridge is one of the five component games of the World Mind Games (along with Chess, Draughts, Go and Xiangqi).

As a result of this, the Commission accepted that Bridge was a sport for the purposes of the Charities Act 2011 and that the Hitchin Bridge Club (and indeed other Bridge clubs) could be registered as charities on the basis that they were established for the advancement of amateur sport.

The Charities Act definition of sport and the definition used by Sport England do differ. Sport England states that it uses the Council of Europe’s European Sports Charter 1993 definition of sport and also considers if the sport is well established and organised within England and as such it is possible for the Charity Commission and Sport England to take alternative views.

In granting permission to the English Bridge Union for judicial review, Mr Justice Mostyn did refer to the mental exercise undertaken when playing Bridge – an approach akin to that taken by the Charity Commission – and it will be very interesting to see how this case develops and the extent to which the Charity Commission’s 2011 decision is highlighted. 

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