Words in the News


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

The European Court of Justice has ruled that the card game bridge is not a sport, a decision that may have led some to exclaim ‘Well who ever thought it was!’ The ruling comes as a surprise because earlier this year the Court’s top adviser backed the claim on the grounds that bridge requires mental effort, thus apparently allowing it to conform to the very broad definition of sport in EU law, which simply requires proof of benefits to physical or mental well-being.

As always there is more – or maybe less – to the story than meets the eye. The English Bridge Union originally brought the case against Sport England, the body tasked with fostering participation in sport, in 2015 over their refusal to recognize bridge as a sport. Recognition would enable the EBU to apply for lottery funding and to stop paying VAT on entry fees for tournaments, as well as reclaiming the tax paid in past years.

We tend to think of sports as requiring some degree of physical activity, a definition that would seem to exclude an essentially sedentary pastime such as bridge. It seems we are wrong, because not only is bridge accepted as a sport in several European countries, it was recognized as one by the International Olympic Committee as long ago as 1998.

Of course the word bridge has many meanings, which are unconnected to this one. Its origin is in fact obscure, the OED saying that it may come from the Near East, while etymology website Etymonline speculates that it may be an alteration of a Turkish phrase meaning ‘one-three’, because one hand is exposed while three are hidden.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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