Olympics: Cards stacked against Olympic status for bridge

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The Independent Online

The fourth International Olympic grand prix for bridge will take place in Salt Lake City in just over three weeks' time, concluding two days before the Games open.

Yes, the fourth. If you missed the other three, it may be because they didn't take place anywhere near any Games, but in the confines of the Olympic Museum beside Lake Leman in Lausanne. Now, however, bridge is upping its bid for Olympic status by putting on a show where and when it counts.

"Unlike previous occasions," the World Bridge Federation website proclaims, "bridge will be demonstrated to the public and the International Olympic Committee officials who will have gathered for the Winter Olympics. Some of the world's top players have been invited to participate in what is believed to be the final step to bridge becoming an Olympic discipline."

So there we go. Come the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, bridge could be up there with alpine skiing and bobsleigh. Just one thing troubles me about this. It's a complete nonsense. Call me old-fashioned, but I thought the Olympics were about sport, and by my dictionary's definition, that means "an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment".

We've been here before. If I mention ballroom dancing, I'm sure it will jog your memory. While the arena for that particular activity remains strictly ballroom, its ultimately fruitless submission to be included within the Olympic fold at least bore some scrutiny. After all, if ice dance was allowed in, with its subjective judging on interpretation and style, then surely a less slippery version could be admitted? Having said that, of course, no ice dance would have meant no Torvill and Dean, which would have been out of the question.

But to return to the card game – if I may term it that. The rising Olympic hopes of those within the WBF – not to be confused with the WWF – were made clear at the last Federation Congress, held in Maastricht in 2000. There, Jose Damiani, the WBF President, highlighted the fact that numerous countries had been able to join their national Olympic committees after his organisation was recognised as an International Sports Federation.

Damiani concluded the Congress, the official record shows, by inviting all the delegates to join him for cocktails. This has no relevance to the main point, but I think it shows evidence of style, and for that I give Damiani a maximum 6.00.

It's obvious why bridge – not contract bridge in this case, but duplicate bridge – should want to get itself into the vibrant Olympic arena. High profile. High sponsorship. Hi!

The mystery concerns why anyone in the International Olympic Committee is even entertaining the notion of letting the WBF join the party. Fellowship through sport is all very well, but this, surely, is a bridge too far. In what way can bridge be said to require physical effort? Pardon me, but I thought the game was about mental effort.

You could tinker with the format. Insisting that players use cards made of dense steel would oblige them to use a little muscle-power as they laid down their four of spades or their jack of hearts. Indeed, holding all those steel cards up with one arm would become excruciating after a very few minutes. The game would thus transmute into a struggle between mind and body as its exponents battled to see out their hand before their arm gave way.

Other options might be entertained. When I was in the third form I used to stay after school to play informal bridge games with a group of classmates. It was a bit of a craze for most of us – Evans had been through his kung-fu thing, I had embraced and then rejected chess as it became clear that my younger brother could beat me hollow – although for my regular partner, Horsley, it was something more enduring. Horsley took bridge very seriously, and I soon began to do the same when I played opposite him because if I bid incorrectly he would frown behind his glasses and kick me hard under the table.

It was a primitive form of signalling and one which I attempted to prevent happening. But now, I believe, Horsley's technique could offer bridge a way forward – could bridge a gap, in fact – to fit into the Olympic Movement.

By indicating their thoughts and feelings in this simple, brutal fashion, bridge players could become physical as well as mental exponents. Additional points could be given for style. Finally – because bridge is after all a winter not summer Olympic sport – you pump up the dry ice and kit everyone out in goggles. And hey bingo – everybody's happy.