The High Court of Justice has ruled that the English Sports Council (the “Council“) did not act unlawfully in adopting a definition of ‘sport’ that required an element of physical activity, therefore rejecting the English Bridge Union’s (“EBU”) bid to have duplicate bridge (bridge played competitively) recognized as a sport.

As reported on this blog, the EBU had previously been given the green light to apply for judicial review against the decision to exclude duplicate bridge as being officially recognised as a sport: Attaining the status of a “sport” would allow the EBU access to government or lottery funding and would also enable them to make use of special VAT tax exemptions. The EBU focused its argument on the basis of two main points: (1) that the Council had misinterpreted the phrase “physical training and recreation” in s3 of the Physical Training and Recreation 1937 Act[1](the “1937 Act“) and (2) that it had misconstrued its 1996 Royal Charter (the Charter which incorporated the Council) in adopting in the recognition policy a definition of sport from the European Sport Charter that incorporated the requirement  of physical activity.

Mr Justice Dove has now firmly rejected both of the EBUs arguments. In relation to the first point he ruled that the starting point for determining the correct interpretation of statutory provisions is the ordinary meaning of words, but that weight should also be given to the historical context of the statute. The Explanatory Memorandum to the 1937 Act made it clear that the purpose of the act was ‘promoting physical fitness’ rather than any other kind of recreation.

With regard to the second argument, Mr Justice Dove stated that the correct interpretation of s.3 of the 1937 Act was a good starting point for consideration as to whether  the phrase ‘sport and physical recreation’ in the 1996 Royal Charter was misconstrued. He found that “it is consistent with the correct interpretation of s 3 of the 1937 Act to understand the phrase in the 1996 Royal Charter as being similarly limited to physical activity.”  It was also consistent with the scope of the objects and work of the Council’s predecessors with there being a notable “continuous unbroken history” from 1937 to the present day of the Council and its predecessors’ work being “confined to physical activities.”

It was noted that other international organisations had adopted bridge as a sport, but this was deemed to be of limited relevance to the legal case at hand.

The Vice Chairman of the EBU, Ian Payn said Mr Justice Dove has refused the group permission to appeal.