LONDON (REUTERS) - Bridge enthusiasts began a court challenge in London on Tuesday against a decision by funding body Sport England to exclude the card game from a list of recognised sports that includes darts, model aircraft flying, hot-air ballooning and angling.
At stake for bridge lovers is a potential source of funding as well as new opportunities to play, while for Sport England the risk if bridge succeeds is that the likes of chess, Scrabble and other "mind sports" will also want recognition and money.
The English Bridge Union (EBU), which has 55,000 members, argues that Sport England, a public body that aims to help get the nation fitter, used too narrow a definition of sport when it rejected an application in 2014 to recognise bridge as one.
That definition, taken from a Council of Europe charter on sport, identifies "physical activity" as its central element.
"Physical activity is a very uncertain yardstick," lawyer Richard Clayton, representing the EBU, told the High Court, drawing a comparison between bridge and darts.
Leaving aside the lifting of pints of beer, he suggested, the amount of physical activity involved in playing darts was arguably not much greater than that involved in shuffling and dealing cards to play bridge.
Clayton conceded that darts did involve a level of physical skill not required in bridge, but that was not what the definition required.
The High Court is not being asked to rule on whether or not bridge is a sport, but merely on whether Sport England's decision to reject the application to recognise bridge was lawful. If it sides with the EBU, that could compel Sport England to revisit the issue.
Lawyer Kate Gallafent, acting for Sport England, told the court the case was "not about bridge at all", and that the characteristics of bridge, chess, poker or any other pursuit were irrelevant to the "rather dry point of law" at issue.
Judge Ian Dove, who informed the court at the start of the two-day hearing that his wife was a member of a bridge club, rejected an application by Clayton to refer to a witness statement from a representative of the English Chess Federation.
The judge said bringing chess into the debate would "generate more heat than light" in terms of the legal issue he had to resolve, which was whether Sport England had unlawfully restricted its own powers by adopting too narrow a definition.
The EBU says 300,000 people in Britain regularly play the game, which it says brings health benefits by exercising the mind and is one of few sports available to older people.