Does an activity need to be physical in order to classified as a sport? This is the question the English Bridge Union (EBU) and Sport England tried to settle in High Court last October, following the latter’s refusal to include bridge into its list of officially recognised sports.

Luck and gambling are most likely the two things that first to come to mind when thinking about card games. Similarly, most people’s idea of bridge is probably either Tower or Golden Gate. However, bridge the card game is a complex game of two pairs competing against one another through several deals. Although dealing the pack brings an element of luck to it as in any card game, the competitive stage requires high levels of strategy, logic and skill.

Professional tournaments have high stakes (and French fried potatoes, to quote Chico Marx) with the top players, sponsored by wealthy bridge followers, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. The game even has its own World Cup held every two years by the World Bridge Federation.

Still, Sport England rejected to reclassify the game as a sport, arguing that bridge was more like “sitting at home, reading a book,” even though elsewhere in Europe, France, Belgium, Ireland, Poland and the Netherlands have already recognised bridge’s status as a sport.

If involving “physical activity” is required, then why not classify cheerleading as a sport? It has been gaining popularity in the UK in recent years and requires an immense amount of athleticism. Clay pigeon shooting and quoits seem to meet the requirement of “physical activity” as they are recognised as sports by Sport England, which makes them eligible for government and lottery funding. Also registered on this list is folk dancing. Folk. Fricking. Dancing.

High Court ruled against bridge as a sport. Photo by:

Even darts is considered a sport by Sport England – the game where a collective drinking problem in the past is so well known, a comedy sketch was made about it. In what other sport could you possibly have match-night consumption of five pints (as Jocky Wilson said he had) and still be considered to be at the top of the game? Maybe the physicality comes from the aspect that in darts the competitors are standing up rather than sitting – after all, it does burn more calories.

Unlike Sport England, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) does recognise bridge as a “mind sport” alongside chess. In fact, both games are even being considered for inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. However, Toshiro Muto, who leads the Tokyo organising committee, said that the new sports included in the Olympics need to “popular with young people.” Thus, the chances of seeing some fast-paced entertainment in the grandest of sporting events are slim.

But what truly makes a sport a sport is a good, image-shaking scandal: cycling had Lance Armstrong, rugby had Bloodgate, and cricket had match-fixing, while time and again there’s a doping scandal emerging in athletics. Football of course is still engulfed in crisis, as seemingly everyone apart from the doorman of FIFA’s Zürich offices has been involved in a global corruption scandal.

Earlier this year, Norwegian bridge player Boye Brogeland, 64th in the world ranking, exposed systematic cheating by some of the best national teams of professional bridge. This included the number 1 and 2 ranked players in the world as well as the reigning European champions. After finding out that national organisations were reluctant to help with his investigation, he gathered volunteers and allies and accumulated a phone bill amounting to thousands of dollars in the process. He also set up a website called to track the findings. This led to some of most successful teams being withdrawn from the Bermuda Bowl World Cup held in Chennai, India last September.

The EBU has not ruled out appealing against the High Court’s decision. However, the requirement of the definition to include “physical activity” is based on the 1992 European Sports Charter, which promotes “a common European definition of sport” – so maybe we can blame Brussels also for this injustice.